Severely Disabled Teenager’s Family In #BedroomTax Legal Review
The family of a severely disabled teenager are to challenge the so-called “Bedroom Tax” in a judicial review at the High Court .
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has taken up the case on behalf of Paul and Susan Rutherford, who, though disabled themselves, are full-time carers to their grandson, Warren.
The case concerns the housing benefit restrictions for social tenants introduced in April, which the family argues discriminate unlawfully against disabled children who need overnight care.
Warren, 13, has a rare chromosome disorder, Potocki-Schaffer Syndrome. He is the only known sufferer in the UK, and one of only 40 in the world. It means he is unable to walk or talk, cannot feed himself, and is doubly incontinent.
Their house in Clunderwen, Pembrokeshire, is purpose-built for his needs, with ceiling hoists, wide doorways, a wet room and a third bedroom that allows a carer to stay at weekends when Paul and Sue need respite.
The family were deemed to be “under-occupying” the third bedroom, and their housing benefit was reduced.
The regulations currently allow for an additional bedroom if the claimant or their partner “require overnight care”, following a previous decision of the Court of Appeal (in Burnip v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions). However, there is no provision for children who need an overnight care.
Mr Rutherford, who has a lung condition and was this week diagnosed with lymphedema, said the policy has been poorly drawn up.
“This policy does not account for any child who might need overnight care.” he said.
“We’ve already approached the Secretary of State on work and pensions to change the wording of the policy to include three words ‘or a child’ but he has refused to do this.
“The child’s main carer is expected by the Government to provide the overnight care, the policy doesn’t make any exception for if the carers are disabled themselves.”
The court battle comes after an appeal to Pembrokeshire council, after the family was initially refused a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) last June. The family were rejected for a DHP because the county council judged they had excess income of £99 a week. It meant they fell into arrears with their rent and were threatened with eviction.
Pembrokeshire council has since overturned its decision and awarded the DHP, but 56-year-old Mr Rutherford said hundreds of others are in a similar boat.
The CPAG said the policy “discriminates against disabled children contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that there is no rational justification for the exclusion of children”.
Chief executive Alison Garnham said: “We’re hoping common sense and decency prevail over the cold hand of inflexible bureaucracy.
“It would be crazy for the law to recognise where a disabled adult needs an overnight carer, but not recognise it for a disabled child. Parents and carers of disabled children have a difficult enough time as it is, but the love, personal care and medical care they provide is so important and we really need to be doing our best to support them in this.
“We’re not talking about large numbers of cases so the cost to the Government would be minimal, but the benefit to the disabled children affected and their families would be priceless.”
Mr Rutherford said the overnight carer is needed to give him and Susan, who has depression, vital respite.
He said: “Warren is used to go away for respite and would be away from Tuesday morning to Friday afternoon. Now he is at home with us all the time apart from Tuesday nights. We get the direct payments from the council to spend on the care that we require, as and when we need it. But there is no consideration of this.”
He said “We have a letter from Lord Freud saying, while it is regrettable that cases like ours fall into the category of having to pay bedroom tax, ‘the policy makers were unable to consider the wide number of different types of cases there may be’. I think this is rubbish. This is an ill thought out policiy that is purely an attack on working age people wh the government are trying to say are making work pay.”
The policy, introduced under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, penalises council housing and housing association tenants if they have a “spare” bedroom by reducing their housing benefit by 14 % or 25 %, depending on the number of spare bedrooms.
A Department for Works and Pensions spokesperson said: “The removal of the spare room subsidy is a necessary reform to return fairness to housing benefit. Even after the reform we pay over 80% of most claimants’ housing benefit – but the taxpayer can no longer afford to pay for people to live in properties larger than they need.
“It is right that people contribute to these costs, just as private renters do. It is just wrong to suggest the early stages of the policy – as people start to adjust to the changes – represent long-term trends in any way whatsoever or that a self-selecting poll of a small minority of landlords provides a clear picture of the reform.”