Laura Sharman 01 April 2015

Bedroom tax policy ruled ‘unlawful’ in landmark case

A disabled couple have successfully challenged a council’s bedroom tax policy, in a legal case that could have ‘significant consequences’ for the rest of the county.

The couple mounted a legal challenge against Sandwell MBC, arguing that its policy of taking disability benefits into account when assessing housing support was unlawful.

Lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, argued the council’s policy of using Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as income when deciding to allocate a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) for people affected by the bedroom tax was a breach of the Equality Act 2010 and Article 14 of the European Convention On Human Rights.

Fiona McGhie, the specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, warned the ruling will have wider consequences for councils across England and Wales.

‘The council’s policy has been struck down as being unlawful,’ she said. ‘Where the bedroom tax leaves a black hole in a disabled person’s household budget – the council cannot demand that they fill that black hole with DLA.

‘Today’s decision is an important one which provides important clarity on whether councils should include disability related benefits as income when considering applications for DHP to help with housing costs.’

In his judgment, Mr Justice Phillips said the council’s policy of the care element of DLA into account when assessing applications gave rise to ‘unfavourable treatment to the disabled applicants’.

Ms McGhie added: ‘Today’s ruling is an important step forward that recognises how the existing council policy simply failed to consider how disabled people would be adversely affected by the treatment of the care component of DLA as income and we are delighted to have helped them succeed in their challenge.’

Neeraj Sharma, director – governance at Sandwell Council, said: 'We welcome this judgement. Like many other local authorities, we took the care component of DLA into account as income when calculating DHP. Sandwell was used as a test case.

'This now clarifies the situation for us and for other councils up and down the country. We will be changing our policy to ensure DLA is no longer taken into account.'

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