Bedroom tax “saints” take fight to the Court of Appeal

Reposted from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
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Two grandparents and their severely disabled grandson hit by the bedroom tax won the right today to take their case to the Court of Appeal. The Court ruled that the Rutherford family, who appeared on the BBC documentary Saints and Scroungers, should have their appeal heard before the end of the year.

They argue that the bedroom tax unlawfully discriminates against seriously disabled children requiring overnight care.

Their case will be heard at the same time as another appeal, brought by a victim of domestic violence known only as ‘A’ in order to protect her identity. Her appeal concerns the effect of the policy on women living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes – properties which are specially adapted because of risks to the lives and physical safety of women and children who live in them.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, unsuccessfully argued that the appeals should not proceed at a hearing which took place earlier this month (2nd July), before Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton. Today, the Lord Justices handed down their judgment rejecting the Secretary of State’s arguments and ruling that the appeals are arguable, that they raise points of significant public importance and must be considered at a full Court of Appeal hearing as a matter of urgency. The case will be heard quickly so that it can be joined with other test cases due to be heard by the Supreme Court in March next year.

The Rutherford family’s appeal

Warren, who is aged 15, suffers from Potokoi-Shaffer Syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder which causes him grave cognitive and physical disabilities. He requires 24 hour care by at least two people at all times. His grandparents Paul and Susan Rutherford, who both suffer from disabilities themselves, struggle to look after him alone and need the help of paid carers who can stay regularly overnight. The family live in a 3-bedroom bungalow that has been specially adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Paul and Susan share one room; Warren sleeps in another and the third room is needed for the carers to stay overnight and to store Warren’s equipment. Without the help of overnight carer workers Warren would have to go into residential care, at substantial extra cost to his local authority.

As a result of the restrictions on the size criteria in social tenancies, introduced in April 2013, the family was deemed to be “under-occupying”; their housing benefit was reduced as a result. The regulations currently allow for an additional bedroom if the claimant or their partner “require overnight care”, following the 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 carer. The family has been granted discretionary help from their local authority to make up the shortfall, but this is due to run out next March.

The family’s legal team (the Child Poverty Action Group, Richard Drabble QC of Landmark Chambers and Tom Royston of Garden Court North Chambers) have argued that the regulations discriminate against disabled children contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Conventions on the rights of disabled people and children.

CPAG’s solicitor Michael Spencer said:

“Paul and Sue Rutherford work round the clock to care for their severely disabled grandson Warren. Without carers who can stay overnight they just wouldn’t be able to cope and Warren would have to go into care, at substantial cost to the taxpayer.”

‘A’ is represented by solicitor Rebekah Carrier, Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, and barristers Karon Monaghan QC, Matrix Chambers, and Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Katie O’Byrne, Doughty Street Chambers. For further details see Hopkin Murray Beskine’s press release.

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