6:05pm Thursday 3rd October 2013
By Graeme Hetherington
A LEGAL victory for a disabled woman fighting to remain in her home could open the floodgates against the government’s so-called bedroom tax.
The couple were facing eviction after Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council ruled they were under occupying their three bedroomed home.
A tribunal found that the local authority had not taken into consideration her disabilities and her reasonable requirements.
The tenant, who has chosen to remain anonymous, suffers from various health conditions and this year had a stroke, leaving her in a wheelchair and requiring a stairlift.
The council decided they only required a one bedroomed property but the couple argued they needed a room each due to her medical condition.
Following the decision, the Department of Work and Pensions said the government had always intended to make provision for extra funding to enable people disabilities to remain in their homes.
And today’s (Thursday) tribunal overturned the local authority’s decision, much to the relief of the couple.
“We took on the Government on the spare room subsidy and won,” the woman’s husband said.
“The tribunal concluded that although we are a couple, my wife’s particular circumstances, the extent and effect of her disabling medical conditions and her resulting needs due to her disabilities, mean that we reasonably require one bedroom each and should therefore be assessed for Housing benefit on this basis.”
The couple have now had the subsidy reduced to 14 per cent, down from 25 per cent.
The tribunal, held in Middlesbrough, concluded that: “In considering whether there is under-occupation of the appellants property, the local authority have not taken into consideration her disabilities and her reasonable requirements, as a result of these, to sleep in a bedroom of her own.”
Housing chiefs and the couple’s MP hope that ruling will enable other disabled couples to appeal against ruling forcing them out of their home.
Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast & Country, which owns the property, said they had been campaigning against the subsidy on behalf of their tenants.
“I am absolutely delighted,” he said. “I think it’s possibly a landmark ruling in the area and shows that if individuals take on the system and fight the tax they can win. It’s not about giving up, it’s about trying to do what is right and this ruling could open it up for other people affected by the tax.
“The stress this couple was under must have been incredible and they must be relieved to be able to stay in their home.”
And Redcar MP Ian Swales, who voted against the government’s proposal to introduce the bedroom tax, welcomed the decision to overturn the ruling.
He said: “There were a number of items of unfairness in the original proposals but for many people, the one about disabled people being able to share a room is iniquitous.
“I voted against the legislation as I felt the available accommodation in our area didn’t fit the plans. This sends a strong message to the legislation makers that they didn’t get it correct.”
The Labour Leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council George Dunning defended the council’s original decision.
He said: “The council welcomes this clarification of the law in this difficult and contentious area. "The council properly applied the law as it stood when it decided this case, but the tribunal has introduced an additional test of reasonableness which does not appear in the Department of Work and Pension's guidance.”
A DWP spokesman said: "Tribunal decisions at this level do not set a precedent. We will need to look at this particular decision in detail, but in July the Divisional Court ruled that the Department had fulfilled its equality duties to disabled people who are affected by the policy.
"We are giving local authorities £190m extra funding this year so vulnerable claimants get the help they need during the welfare reforms, with £25 million specifically aimed to help disabled people who live in specially adapted accommodation."
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