Manifestly without reason

Originally published on November 8 on my blog for Inside Housing

On a day when it was badly needed the judges of the Supreme Court obliged with some good news.

Yes, it was mixed with bad news in the judgement on the bedroom tax, as two claimants won their case and others were refused, but it was still a welcome vindication of the case put forward by the Carmichaels, the Rutherfords and their lawyers. In the words of the judgement, the decisions on their housing benefit were ‘manifestly without reason’.

And – just maybe – there may be more good news to follow from the new ministerial team at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). In an appearance before the Communities and Local Government Committee yesterday, they repeatedly stonewalled questions about the implementation of the extension of the Right to Buy, the sale of higher value council homes, Pay to Stay and Starter Homes. For more on this, see the next post.

So first the bedroom tax. Today’s judgement (available in full or in summary here) draws a distinction between tenants who need a spare bedroom for medical reasons and those who have powerful but non-medical reasons for needing one.

I’ll leave the legal detail to the experts but the test was not just whether the housing benefit regulations (Reg B13) discriminated against disabled people but also whether this discrimination was ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’. The key part of the summary of the judgement on the Carmichael and Rutherford cases is this:

‘However, some people with disabilities have a transparent medical need for an additional bedroom. Reg B13 recognises this and entitles claimants to an additional bedroom in the case of children (but not adults) who cannot share a bedroom because of their disabilities or adults (but not children) in need of an overnight carer. Mrs Carmichael is an adult who cannot share a room with her husband due to her disabilities. The Rutherfords require a regular overnight carer for their grandson with severe disabilities. There appears to be no reason to distinguish between adult partners who cannot share a bedroom because of disability and children who cannot do so because of disability; or between adults and children in need of an overnight carer. The decisions in relation to Mrs Carmichael and the Rutherfords were therefore manifestly without reason.’

Summed up like that you can see just how manifestly reasonable it is to treat disabled adults and disabled children in the same way when they need an additional bedroom for medical reasons or an overnight carer and not force them to go through the local lottery of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs). But how did it take three-and-a-half years to come to this conclusion?

The other cases involved disability and gender discrimination (against a woman living in a Sanctuary Scheme). The judges ruled that ‘while there may be good reasons for them to receive state benefits to cover the full rent, it is not unreasonable for their claims to be considered on an individual basis under the DHP scheme’. In the case of the Sanctuary Scheme, two judges dissented but five ruled in favour of the Department for Work and Pensions.

So good news and bad news on the bedroom tax but in the context of events elsewhere today and of the other cuts facing disabled people, it’s still something to celebrate.

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