Landmark Judgement 'Will Stop Benefit System Discriminating Against Disabled'

Leading Lawyer Says Court of Appeal Ruling Confirms Government Has to Give Special Provision To Disabled People So That Human Rights Are Not Breached


Experts at Irwin Mitchell have welcomed a landmark judgement handed down at the Court of Appeal today which they say sets out clear guidance to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against by the Government’s benefit system.

Three families challenged the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (DWP) which stated that local authorities could not provide housing benefit for extra bedrooms needed by four young disabled people who were living in private rented accommodation.

Public law experts at Irwin Mitchell, representing the lead case, said DWP breached the British Human Rights law by not allowing their housing benefit claims to be treated differently to those of non-disabled people, which would have given them the extra provision needed.

And their view was backed by the Court, who ruled that “without the benefit of the extra room rate, Ian Burnip would be left in a worse position than an able bodied person living alone”. 

Polly Sweeney, Solicitor for Ian Burnip at Irwin Mitchell said, “This Judgment has widespread implications for policy-making and is crucial to promoting equality for disabled people and assisting them to live independently. Whenever the Government introduces new policies, or reviews existing policies, they now face a duty to ensure that appropriate provision is made for disabled people to ensure that discrimination does not occur."

The Court recognised that the object of Ian Burnip’s claim was not to give him some form of preferential treatment, but merely to ensure that housing benefit can fulfil its intended function for those who are so severely disabled that they need 24 hour care. 

Lord Justice Maurice Kay, Vice President of the Court of Appeal, Civil Division, said in his Judgment that:

“Disability can be expensive. It can give rise to needs which do not attach to the able-bodied and Ian Burnip and the late Lucy Trengove provide stark examples”.

Specialists at the firm say today’s judgement will have a huge impact on discrimination in the benefits system, and will ensure that the Government now ensures there is a appropriate provision when considering disabled people’s needs.

In the lead case, Ian Burnip, represented by Irwin Mitchell, was told by Birmingham City Council that he could not claim local housing allowance (LHA) to cover an extra bedroom he needed for an overnight care worker.

A second case involved Rebecca Trengove whose daughter Lucy, who has since sadly passed away, was unable to secure the LHA she needed for an extra room for an overnight care worker from Walsall Council.  

During the course of the Appeal process, the local housing allowance rules on extra bedrooms were changed by the Government and, since April 2011, extra LHA is now given to disabled people who need a bedroom for an overnight care worker.

However, a third case heard by the Court of Appeal was not affected by the coalition’s new rules. Richard Gorry, the father of two disabled children, one who has a physical impairment and the other who has autism, wanted Wiltshire County Council to provide enough LHA for his children to have separate bedrooms. This ruling will now ensure that he is awarded a rate of housing benefit which reflects his daughters’ accepted needs to sleep in separate rooms and ensure that they can afford to live in adequate and suitable housing.

The Court of Appeal found that discrimination had occurred in all three cases and that their human rights had been breached even though the appropriate provisions being sought for the disabled people required additional public expenditure.

Ian Burnip’s mother Linda, who set up the Local Housing Allowance Reform Group to campaign for changes in the system, said: “Winning this case reinforces disabled people’s right to not be discriminated against within the benefits system and also affirms their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We hope that the case will help other disabled people who feel that they have been discriminated by government policies and law."