A Supreme Court ruling on the bedroom tax yesterday, Wednesday, was damning for the government. But it set down limits on legal challenges to the hated policy.
Since 2013, council and housing association tenants deemed to have more rooms than they need have their housing benefit docked.
Judges found that the government had acted unlawfully, that the policy was discriminatory on grounds of disability and that some of those affected should be spared.
But they would only overturn discrimination that is “manifestly without reasonable justification”, throwing bedroom tax’s victims onto the mercy of cash-strapped councils.
The judgement ended seven battles that have gone through the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The government was trying to overturn two previous rulings in claimants’ favour, and five claimants were trying to overturn rulings against them.
Judges ruled against the government in just two of the cases.
Jacqueline Carmichael has the Spina Bifida condition, meaning she needs a special bed and cannot share with her partner. Judges found that they are allowed to have separate rooms.
In a statement, they said they were “overjoyed” at a decision that “vindicates our long and difficult fight”. They called on “Theresa May to now reconsider the whole policy for everyone.”
Paul and Susan Rutherford, who care for their disabled grandson Warren, had already won the right to a room for his overnight carer.
Judges upheld this after a government appeal disgracefully extended their ordeal at public expense.
But these only resolve an anomaly created by earlier rulings, exempting disabled adults who need overnight carers and disabled children who cannot share rooms from the tax.
Judges overturned a ruling in favour of a woman who had been raped and threatened with further violence by a former partner. She and her son had been put in a home adapted with extra security.
This was a three bedroom home, as nothing smaller was then available. Due to its adaptations and the relationships she had built with neighbours, judges acknowledged she had “a very powerful case” for staying.
But since this case is unconnected with the size of her house, it doesn’t spare her from the bedroom tax. Four claimants with disabilities or disabled children were also denied exemption.
All were told they could apply for discretionary housing payments (DHP) on their individual grounds without changing the law. But these are underfunded, and only paid at councils’ discretion with no right to appeal if they refuse it or stop it.
Karen Ashton of Central England Law Centre, solicitor for three of these claimants, said the judgement “leaves thousands of disabled people without an entitlement to housing benefit to pay their full rent, despite the fact that they are unable to work to find the extra money.
“The court may have found this to be lawful, but that does not mean that it’s fair.”
The court’s decision hinged on establishing how far equalities legislation can go against “legitimate” government social economics policies.
It underlines the need for a fight beyond the courtrooms to scrap the vicious welfare cuts.