Liberty: Bedroom tax breaches right to family life

21 March 2013

Today Liberty announced it will seek Judicial Review of the Government’s controversial new “bedroom tax” policy based on the impact on separated families with shared custody of children. The announcement comes days before the High Court is due to rule whether a challenge based on the effect on disabled people should be allowed to proceed.

The scheme – part of wider welfare reforms – will cut residents’ Housing Benefit if they are deemed to have a “spare” room in their home. It will apply from April this year to all council or housing association tenants of working age. Liberty wants to challenge the lawfulness of the proposals – on the grounds they are irrational and a violation of Articles 8 and/or 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights; the right to a private and family life and no discrimination.

The human rights group is representing three clients whose families will be adversely affected by the policy:

- Simon Cohen, from Gloucestershire, whose 12-year-old son lives with him four days a week in his two-bedroom house. Under the scheme his son will not be considered part of his household – his room will therefore be deemed “unoccupied”. Mr Cohen will see his Housing Benefit cut by 14 per cent. He will either be forced to move into a one-bedroom property, where he cannot properly accommodate his son, or be placed in extreme hardship – possibly resulting in his inability to afford his rent.

- Mark Hutchinson, from Derbyshire, whose seven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old stepson reside with him at weekends and during school holidays. He will be considered to have two unoccupied rooms in his three-bedroom house and his Housing Benefit will be reduced by 25 per cent. As Mr Hutchinson’s only income is Employment and Support Allowance of £71 a week, he will either be forced to move into a one-bedroom property, unsuitable for his children, or he will be unable to pay his rent and become homeless if evicted.

- Kim Cotton, from Hampshire, whose eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son live with her every other week. Her Housing Benefit will also be cut by 14 per cent. Again she will either be forced to move into a two-bedroom property, and be unable to provide proper accommodation for her children, or she will fall behind on her rent and become homeless if evicted.

Corinna Ferguson, Legal Officer for Liberty, said:

“In no way can these loving parents be accused of ‘under-occupying’ their properties or having ‘spare bedrooms’ – these rooms are very much their children’s and home to many of their belongings.  This bedroom tax could destroy thousands of similar arrangements for shared care of children, at enormous social cost. Why is a Government that prides itself on prioritising families penalising people merely for having children?”

Liberty is seeking a ruling that the relevant provision – Regulation B13 of the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 – is incompatible with its clients’ and their children’s rights under Article 8 and/or Article 14 of the European Convention – and thus unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act. The human rights group has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, urging him to repeal the regulations or amend them accordingly.

It argues that all three clients will be unable to make up any resulting shortfall from other income – either because they have no means of generating such revenue or because doing so would create unacceptable hardship. They would therefore be forced to move to smaller properties where they simply could not properly accommodate their children.

Contact: Liberty Press Office on 0207 378 3656 or 07973 831128

 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. Liberty has notified the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of a proposed claim for Judicial Review regarding the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 as amended by the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012. It has been instructed by three individuals whose Housing Benefit will be reduced in accordance with Regulation B13 when it comes into force on 1 April 2013 and who wish to challenge the lawfulness of the Regulations on the grounds that they are irrational and/or violate Article 8 and/or Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The clients intend to seek relief, including a declaration that Regulation B13 should not apply to them and is invalid by reason of incompatibility with Articles 8 and/or 14 of the Convention.

2. Liberty submits that Article 8 requires the existing level of Housing Benefit to be preserved in order to enable family life to continue. It also argues that Regulation B13 is discriminatory under Article 14 on the grounds of its clients’ status as the “secondary” carer of their children and indirectly discriminatory on grounds of sex, given that in separated families the majority of resident parents are female while the majority of non-resident parents are male.

3. Please contact the Liberty Press Office with any requests for media interviews.