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Supreme Court success for families involved in bedroom tax battle

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Seven-judge bench upholds the claims of Jacqueline Carmichael and Paul and Susan Rutherford

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The Supreme Court has ruled today in the bedroom tax human rights showdown, and it’s success for two of the families involved.

Today’s judgment is the culmination of a rocky road through the appeal courts for multiple claimants, who have tirelessly argued new changes to 2006 housing benefits regulations are unlawfully discriminatory.

The case has captured the interest of the country and has been documented by Joshua Rozenberg QC, in the first of a series he has written for the Legal Cheek Journal.

At the centre of this landmark human rights case is the ‘bedroom tax’ — regulations that state a recipient of housing benefits will be entitled to less money if they live in a property with extra bedrooms (as judged by a standard criteria).

All of the appellants are tenants of social housing and receive housing benefits, the amount of which has been slashed by this new regulation. They believe they’re entitled to full housing benefits because their reasons for having extra rooms is justified, and to deny them otherwise would be unlawful.

Their reasons? The appellants either have disabilities or live with family members who have disabilities, who claim the extra bedroom is needed for carers. One of the claimants is a domestic violence victim, who lives in accommodation adapted to provide a panic room.

The killer question for the seven-judge bench to consider in this judicial review challenge — brought against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions — was this: are the regulatory changes discriminatory to disabled people, i.e. in breach of article 14 (non-discrimination) of the European Convention of Human Rights, when taken together with article 1 of protocol 1 (right to property)?

Fast forward to today, and the highest court in the land ruled unanimously that it had — in relation a claim of discrimination — upheld the claims of spina bifida sufferer Jacqueline Carmichael and Paul and Susan Rutherford.

Carmichael — who lives with her husband in a two-bedroom housing association flat — is unable to share a bedroom with him due to her condition, while the Rutherfords — who live in a specially adapted three-bedroom bungalow — are full time carers of their severely disabled grandson.

The other claimants, including wheelchair user Richard Rourke, had their claims dismissed by the court. Speaking in court this morning, Lord Toulson said:

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.