15 May 2012 | By Carl Brown, Inside Housing

The government may have broken equality laws when introducing the total household benefits cap, according to watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, public bodies are legally obliged to demonstrate they have considered the potential effects of decisions on women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

EHRC yesterday published an assessment of the 2010 spending review which found that in three cases the commission could not establish whether the government’s decisions met the PESD. This was due to a ‘lack of clarity as to where the true site of the decisions lay and whether or not some decisions were the responsibility of other government departments or the government as a whole.’

The £26,000 total household benefits cap, which comes into effect next April, was one of three cases where EHRC could not establish whether the PESD had been met.

Referring to the cap, the EHRC report said: ‘There is no evidence of any gender analysis or equality screening of the measure provided to HM Treasury ministers prior to the announcement of the measure on 4 October.’

EHRC also said it was unsure whether the PESD was met during decisions to replace the education maintenance allowance and cut the bus service operator’s grant.

The report said it would be ‘disproportionate’ of the EHRC to take formal action and said the government had pledged to address the issues raised.

The government met the PESD in nine other cases.

A spokesperson for the Treasury said it had taken the decisions in the fairest way possible.