The High Court has ordered a full hearing of a judicial review challenge to the “bedroom tax” and its impact on survivors of domestic violence living in “sanctuary” homes.
His Honour Judge Anthony Thornton QC granted permission to proceed with the judicial review claim on Tuesday.
Secretary of state for work & pensions Iain Duncan Smith had argued the claim should be dismissed.
The claim is being brought by a woman, ‘A’, who has been raped, assaulted, harassed and stalked by an ex-partner, and who lives in a specially adapted Sanctuary Scheme home with her 11-year-old son.
She argues the housing benefit regulations behind the government’s under-occupation penalty are discriminatory and will have devastating consequences for her and her son.
The policy, which came into effect in April 2013, reduces housing benefit by 14% for working-age tenants with one extra bedroom, and by 25% for those with two or more spare bedrooms.
‘A’ and her son live in a three-bedroom property but are entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property.
Police have specially adapted their home with features such as a “panic space”, reinforced doors and alarms linked to the police station. A Sanctuary Scheme enables households at risk of violence to remain safely in their own home by installing a “sanctuary room” in the property and providing support.
The legal team for ‘A’ argues the secretary of state has failed to take into account the disproportionate impact of the bedroom tax on survivors of domestic violence, and particularly those in Sanctuary Scheme homes.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for ‘A,’ said in a statement that the changes to housing benefit were having “a catastrophic impact” on vulnerable people.
“Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified,” she said. “She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child.
“It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property where she will not have any of these protections, or else take in a lodger.
“She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
The domestic violence charity Women’s Aid is supporting the claim.
A DWP spokesman said: “We are confident that we have met our legal duties with this policy. The courts have twice ruled in our favour that we have fulfilled our equality duties and discretionary housing payments provide the right level of support.
“We have made £345m discretionary housing payments available to councils since the reforms were introduced to help vulnerable families.
“The removal of the spare room subsidy is a fair and necessary reform. It gives families in overcrowded accommodation more opportunity to find appropriately sized property which will help bring the ballooning housing benefit bill under control.”