A mother living in a domestic abuse ‘sanctuary scheme’ has lost her landmark challenge against the bedroom tax, in a blow to similar services across the country.
Claimant ‘A’ – whose identity is protected – lives in a property which has a special ‘panic space’ installed by the council.
The woman had her housing benefit deducted because the council considered her panic room to be a spare bedroom, although she has been receiving discretionary housing payment to cover the shortfall in her benefit.
She started High Court judicial review proceedings against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in May 2013, arguing that the bedroom tax is a discriminatory policy which will have severe consequences for her and her son.
In a judgement handed down on 29 January, which was summarised in a government bulletin on Wednesday, the court found in favour of the DWP.
The judge held that although the bedroom tax discriminates disproportionately against women, the policy has a ‘reasonable foundation’, according to the DWP bulletin summary.
A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) survey in 2007 found that about half of England’s councils (171 of 354) were operating sanctuary schemes.
Figures obtained by a freedom of information (FOI) request to 79 councils in February last yearshow that since the bedroom tax was introduced in 2013, 281 households have been affected by the policy.
According to the summary, the judge commented that while it would have been helpful for parliament to have considered the effect of the policy on those living in sanctuary schemes, it was ‘not surprising that no reference was made given the relatively small numbers of people involved’.
Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – funds to help claimants with their housing costs – are a ‘not irrational’ way to deal with issues arising from sanctuary schemes, it added.
The council – which is also unnamed – adapted Claimant A’s property because her life was deemed to be at risk from an ex-partner with a history of serious violence.
The home had a ‘panic space’ and a specialist ‘sanctuary system’ installed, which includes reinforced doors, electric alarms and alarms linked to the police station.
Claimant A has sought permission to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.