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court ref no: CO/3758/96 ...
court ref no: CO/3758/96

A Bristol single mother who was accused of 'taking advantage' by the city council after she moved into her sister's five-bedroomed house and agreed to pay rent, has failed in a test case fight for housing benefit.

High court judge Mr Justice Dyson upheld the city council's view that the lease entered into by 29-year-old Maria Romero with her sister 'appeared to have been created to take advantage of the housing benefit scheme.'

For the same reason, the judge said housing benefit payments to Ms Romero's housing benefit payments to Ms Romero's elderly parents - who also live in the substantial house in Bedminster - had likewise been stopped by the city council.

Ms Romero's sister, Ana-Maria, is launching county court repossession proceedings to get them out of her property.

Mr Justice Dyson told London's high court that Ms Romero, her daughter Alice, now five, her brother Anthony and her parents, Narcisco, 61, and Margaret, 63, had all lived together in a rented home in Goldney Road, Bristol, before moving into West View Road in May 1995.

Ana-Maria granted three separate shorthold tenancies for different parts of the property to Anthony, her parents and Maria at a total rent of£160-a-week.

Anthony has since left the property, but Maria and her parents both pursued applications for housing benefit to cover their rent.

But the judge said the council decided that the£160-a-week rent was 'inflated', that the occupants of the house were 'living together as a family' and that the three tenancy agreements 'appeared to have been contrived'.

Appeals by Ms Romero and her father to the council's housing benefit review board were turned down unanimously after a hearing in July last year.

Mr James Bowen, for Ms Romero, said the council's decision amounted to an allegation of a 'concerted conspiracy' to take advantage of the housing benefit scheme, of which there was not a shred of evidence.

But Robert Levy, for the council, said it was of the view that 'the entire tenancy scheme was one which was contrived'.

Dismissing Ms Romero's judicial review challenge, Mr Justice Dyson said: 'I am in no doubt that it was open to the review board to find as a fact that Ms Romero was continuing to live with her parents and brother as a family unit.

'In my view Mr Bowen has not demonstrated an arguable case that the review board's fundamental finding of fact was perverse.'

Ms Romero's father is also challenging the review board's decision, and Mr Justice Dyson opened the way for a judicial review of his case solely because of a point raised on the interpretation of one of the housing benefit regulations.

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