Human rights firm challenges ‘spare room’ tax on behalf of two disabled clients

22 February 2013

Law firm Leigh Day is taking legal action on behalf of two clients who are challenging the Government’s proposed ‘bedroom tax’. They claim that new housing benefit regulations, due to come into force on 1 April 2013, are discriminatory, as they will have a far greater ‘devastating’ impact on disabled people than on non-disabled recipients of the benefit.

In a letter before action sent to Ian Duncan-Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on behalf of disabled clients Jacqueline Carmichael and Richard Rourke, the law firm has threatened the Government with a High Court challenge if the new regulations are not withdrawn.

The law firm is challenging new regulation B13 introduced into the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, which will see a single person or a couple with no children having their housing benefit reduced by 14% where they occupy a two bedroom home and by 25% if they occupy a home with three or more bedrooms.

Leigh Day is arguing this will have serious impacts on disabled housing benefit claimants including their client Jacqueline Carmichael who lives with her husband in a two bedroom housing association flat.

Mrs Carmichael has spina bifida and is severely disabled. Mr Carmichael provides her with care throughout the day and night. Mrs Carmichael’s condition means that she has to sleep in a hospital bed with an electronic pressure mattress and has to sleep in a fixed position.

Mr Carmichael cannot sleep in this bed with her as it is not large enough for two people and his movements at night could cause harm. There is not enough space in her bedroom for a second bed so Mr Carmichael sleeps in a second bedroom.

Mr and Mrs Carmichael cannot afford to make up the 14% rent reduction, which will be imposed, from 1 April 2013.

Mr Rourke is a widower. He is disabled and uses a wheelchair. He is a council tenant and lives in a three-bedroom bungalow. His stepdaughter is also disabled with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, a degenerative condition that attacks the lungs, heart and muscles.

She is currently a university student in her first year of a two-year web design degree. She lives in halls of residence during term time but returns home for the full summer vacation, at holiday periods and at weekends when she can.

The third ‘bedroom’, as defined by the Government, in Mr Rourke’s home is a box room measuring 8 x 9 feet which he requires to store his equipment including a hoist for lifting him, his power chair and his shower seat.

Mr Rourke has enquired in the social rented sector about the availability of two bedroom properties, which are suitable for wheelchair use, and there are none. Mr Rourke cannot afford to make up the 14% rent reduction, which will be imposed, from 1 April 2013.

Ugo Hayter from the human rights team at Leigh Day said:

“This is a very poor piece of legislation which will have a devastating effect on our clients and many thousands of others. This change to housing benefit is causing great distress and uncertainty for the most vulnerable in society.

“If this legislation is not withdrawn we fully intend to take it to the High Court for a judicial review as we believe it is discriminatory.”