Government faces legal challenge to housing benefit cuts

March 7, 2011

Child Poverty Action Group has announced today that it has issued urgent proceedings for judicial review of two of the cuts to Housing Benefit for private sector tenants due to come into force in full on 1st April 2011:

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

These cuts are likely to have a dramatic effect in London in particular. The Mayor of London has said that around 9,000 London households will have to leave their homes. This could mean upwards of 20,000 children will have to move, 14,000 out of their local area .

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

“We have served legal proceedings on the Government to protect Britain from becoming a country where neighbourhoods that have been open to all families to live in for generations become more like a private members club.

“Housing Benefit will no longer be the national scheme it is legally meant to be once cuts redesign it as an engine of social segregation. It is not right that families living in certain areas, especially larger families, are punished and pushed aside while parts of Britain become enclaves for the privileged.

“London will be worst affected of all. The cuts will mean the social cleansing of parts of London with families being forced out of their homes and into less suitable, often poor quality and cramped housing.

“Children will be forced to move away from schools, friends, neighbourhoods and family. For some this may include moving away from another parent, most often their Dad.

“David Cameron made a clear promise before the election to make British poverty history. We didn’t expect this to mean families being told to pack up and move out of the neighbourhood their parents and grandparents lived in because of the housing market bubble the bankers created and the bankers’ bailout that hit the ordinary taxpayer.”

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

  • 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.

Notes for editors

  • The cuts being challenged are part of a package of measures announced in the emergency budget in July 2010 and in the spending review in October 2010. The two cuts being challenged in the action:

    (a) Provide that maximum size accommodation for the purposes of the LHA is reduced from 5 to 4 bedrooms.

    (b) Introduce absolute caps so that Local Housing Allowance weekly rates cannot exceed £250 for a one bedroom property; £290 for a two bedroom property; £340 for a three bedroom property; £400 for a four bedroom property.

    Other cuts to housing benefit not being challenged by the action, but that CPAG also believes will have an unfair and detrimental impact on low income families include:

    (c) Removal of the £15 weekly housing benefit excess that some clients can received under the Local Housing Allowance arrangements if they secure a rented property for less than the LHA.

    (d) Setting Local Housing Allowance rates at the 30th percentile of rents in each Broad Rental Market Area rather than the median.

    A positive change has also been made:

    (e) Inclusion of an additional bedroom within the size criteria used to assess Housing Benefit claims in the private rented sector where a disabled person, or someone with a long term health condition, has a proven need for overnight care and this is provided by a non-resident carer.

  • The Mayor of London’s evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee 
  • The barristers who will be arguing the case for CPAG are Martin Westgate QC and Jamie Burton from Doughty Street Chambers
  • The changes will be implemented on 1 April 2011, but the legal judgement is likely to be delivered in June. If the judgement is against the Government, it may be required to suspend or reverse the changes and rebate claimants for any loss of Housing Benefit since 1st April due to the two cuts being challenged.
  • Read the briefing paper: CPAG’s challenge to the housing benefit changes

For further information please contact:
Tim Nichols
CPAG Press Officer
Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302

Sarah Clarke
CPAG Solicitor
Tel. 020 7812 5219