Court rules to allow discriminatory impacts of Housing Benefit cuts

October 13, 2011

The High Court of Justice has today passed down judgment in favour of the Government in a Judicial Review brought by Child Poverty Action Group. The review concerned two specific cuts to housing benefit that came into force this April:

  • Restriction of maximum household size to four bedrooms
  • Caps on the amount of Housing Benefit a household can receive

Child Poverty Action Group’s case in support of disadvantaged families against the Government was:

  • The changes are contrary to the fundamental purpose of the housing benefit scheme, which was originally intended to be a national scheme to prevent homelessness
  • The Government has failed to have due regard to the general equality duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 because ethnic minorities and lone parents will be disproportionately hit by the two cuts being challenged.

The Chief Executive of Child Poverty, Alison Garnham, said:

“We are greatly disappointed at today’s judgment. Minority ethnic and lone parent families are already at higher risks of child poverty and the cuts to housing benefit that we challenged will make this situation even worse, driving people out of their homes and disrupting children’s education.

“The bad news for poor families is piling up this week, following the stark warning from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that hundreds of thousands more children will fall into poverty because of the Government’s welfare reforms.

“We will now be studying the decision before deciding on our next steps. We will continue opposing the cuts and campaigning for fairness and justice for the families who are bearing the brunt of a financial crisis that they were not responsible for.”

 

Notes for editors

Summary of judgment:

CPAG challenged two changes to the housing benefit rules for tenants in the private rented sector that were made with effect from 1st April 2011;

  • An overall cap on housing benefit which mainly affects Central London
  • A reduction in the number of bedrooms that can be covered by housing benefit to 4

CPAG argued that the overall cap went beyond the powers given by parliament to the Secretary of State in setting up the housing benefit scheme. We argued that Parliament intended that the scheme should be national, and the government went too far in making rules that exclude a large area of central London from the housing benefit scheme for private tenants.

We also argued that the government had failed in its duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Although the Government recognised that the measures would probably have a disproportionate impact on woman and families from particular ethnic groups, it considered the changes justified nonetheless.

In a deeply disappointing judgment, Mr Justice Supperstone dismissed CPAG’s claim. He agreed with the government that the purpose of the housing benefit scheme is not to prevent homelessness, but to help claimants with their rent whilst also protecting the public purse. He has also held that there is nothing in the statutory scheme to prevent the government from setting an overall cap in this way. By preparing an Equality Impact Assessment he held that the government had “due regard” to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination but that they were entitled to make the changes despite their disproportionate impact.

Evidence was produced to show that around 9,000 London households will have to leave their homes as a result of the caps, and that about 4,600 will be unable to find anywhere else to live “locally”. This could mean upwards of 20,000 children having to move, 14,000 out of their local area, resulting in disruption to education, health and social services. The Social Security Advisory Committee advised the government not to proceed with the changes, arguing that the risks outweighed any financial savings.

We believe this case shows the government’s disregard for the likely impacts of its policies on families and children, and for the most disadvantaged groups in our society.

  • CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.
  • CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty, which has over 150 member organisations and is campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.

 

For further information please contact:

Tim Nichols

CPAG Press Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302

tnichols@cpag.org.uk