Lawyers Help Disabled Client Win Day In Court Over ‘Unfair’ Policy
Legal experts acting on behalf of a disabled couple affected by Sandwell Council’s policy to take disability benefits into account when assessing eligibility for housing benefits have been given the go-ahead to challenge the controversial policy.
Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Public Law team has been granted permission to bring a judicial review into the local authority’s decision to take Disability Living Allowance (DLA) into account when assessing whether people should also receive Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).
The experts are arguing that the council’s policy amounts to disability discrimination and a breach of British human rights law. The case is thought to affect hundreds of disabled people around the country.
Fiona McGhie, the public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office who is running the case, added that a final decision in the case, set to be handed down in a future hearing at the Administrative Court in Birmingham, will provide much-needed clarity on the issue.
Expert OpinionHigh-profile changes to the housing benefit scheme last year mean that many families have seen their housing benefit cut if they have a spare bedroom – which is why the changes have been widely referred to as a ‘bedroom tax’.
"As a result of this, our clients face a shortfall between their benefits and outgoings which means they currently need to also apply for a DHP to simply keep a roof over their heads.
"However, the key problem is that Sandwell, like many other councils, is now taking into account DLA when decided on the amount of DHP they are eligible to receive – a decision we believe is unreasonable and not theirs to make. The effect of the decision is to drive disabled people into poverty." Fiona McGhie - Senior Associate Solicitor
Irwin Mitchell’s clients in this case are a disabled couple who have lived in their current house for more than 20 years and are happy to move to a smaller property in order to offset the impact of the bedroom tax.
However, the lack of such suitable accommodation at present means they have little choice but to continue to use their DLA to meet the shortfall caused by receiving a lower amount of DHP.
Expert OpinionThis is a lose-lose situation for our clients – not only do they receive a smaller amount of DHP due to getting DLA, but as a result they then have to use part of their DLA to meet housing costs which we believe should be covered in their entirety by DHP. The lack of availability of alternative accommodation also means they are locked into this scenario.
"With many local authorities following similar principles to Sandwell, we feel that the judgment in this case may have a major impact on the future of how councils assess benefits issues and will provide clarity to the law around this complex area.
"This policy essentially means councils are determining or passing judgment on what disabled people should be using their DLA for without clear legal authority to do this. DLA is paid to meet disability related costs – not housing costs. We are determined to do everything possible to ensure that our client gets their voice heard on this hugely important issue." Fiona McGhie - Senior Associate Solicitor