The case of JD and A v the United Kingdom has now had judgement handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) following an appeal from the decision of the UK Supreme Court. The ECHR judgement found that the housing benefit rules known as the ‘bedroom tax’ (the under-occupancy penalty) prejudiced victims of domestic abuse and violence.
A, as a victim of severe domestic abuse and violence (and therefore her identity was not disclosed), was living with her son under the ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ which is designed to enable people in such a situation to be able to live safely and securely in their own home. Under the Sanctuary Scheme, A and her son lived in their home, a three bedroomed property, adapted for them by the police. Under the ‘bedroom tax’, however, their housing benefit was reduced by 14% as it only stretched to allowing a two bedroom property for A and her son.
There are Sanctuary Scheme properties across the UK. 79 local authority areas responded to freedom of information requests, and across these areas, it seems that 281 households under the Sanctuary Scheme are affected by the bedroom tax. The court recognised that the vast majority of people in the Sanctuary Scheme are women. So the bedroom tax was found to be discriminating against women, who in these circumstances are already very vulnerable. A’s property had been adapted by the police to include a panic space and security measures.
The ECHR said that the bedroom tax does discriminate and whilst EU member states are left a wide margin of appreciation in relation to deciding policy for social and economic matters, those decisions must not conflict with the rules against discrimination. The ECHR noted that it only intervenes where a member state’s position is ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’ as it found the UK to be here.
It will now be for the Secretary of State (once appointed) to change the rules concerning housing benefit to exempt women in the Sanctuary Scheme from the bedroom tax reducing their housing benefit.
The solicitor acting for A noted that every week two women are killed by existing or former partners and that protection of this small but vulnerable group of women is a matter of life and death.
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