You may have seen that there has been a lot of recent publicity regarding the so called ‘bedroom tax’ and how it is affecting thousands of people across the UK.
There has been a tragic story in which a 53 year old lady living in Yorkshire resorted to taking her own life due to the stress and anxiety caused by the ‘bedroom tax’. The tenant had to deal with the painful suicide of her 16 year old son in 2013. The ‘bedroom tax’ was then applied to her property as her son’s room was no longer occupied.
The tenant was desperate to stay in her property in order to keep hold of memories which she shared with her son. This became more and more difficult for the tenant and she found herself falling into rent arrears as a result of the bedroom tax
The tenant received an Eviction Notice from her landlord as a result of the rent arrears. The following day, the tenant was found hanged in the garden of her property and a note to David Cameron was found close to the body; the note referred to the hardships which are being caused by the stress of the ‘bedroom tax’.
The official name for ‘bedroom tax’ is the under-occupancy penalty and it came into force in April 2013. The ‘tax’ means that social tenants with rooms deemed as ‘spare’ receive a reduction in their housing benefit. The current deduction rates stand at 14 per cent for one bedroom and 25 per cent for two or more bedrooms.
If the tenant is unable to cover the shortfall in their rent then they face possible eviction by their landlord, be it the Local Authority or a Housing Association.
There has been much publicity surrounding a recent Court of Appeal decision in which the application of ‘bedroom tax’ has been challenged in two cases. The judgment was laid down by the Court on 27 January 2016, in which the two appellants in each case respectfully successfully challenged the application of ‘bedroom tax’ at their properties under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Article 14 ECHR relates to discrimination and is set out below;
‘The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this European Convention on Human Rights shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status’
The main challenge being heard at the Court of Appeal was whether the legislation (The Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012) containing the terms of when the tax is to be applied is discriminatory.
The facts of the two cases which were challenged at the Court of Appeal differ greatly. The first case related to a female victim of domestic abuse who was living in accommodation which had been specially adapted under the government backed Sanctuary Scheme. It was held in this case that the regulation was discriminatory as it did not include the appellant within a defined class of persons whose position has to be taken into account for the purposes of the reduction in housing benefit.
The second case related to overnight carers of a disabled child. It was held that the regulation was discriminatory in such instances insofar as it caters for the overnight care for adults but not children which was deemed as unjustifiable.
Is this the end of bedroom tax?
Although this may be a groundbreaking decision it does not bring an end to the application of ‘bedroom tax’. The Supreme Court has allowed permission for the Secretary of State to appeal the decision from the Court of Appeal; this appeal has been scheduled to take place in March 2016.
The decision of the Supreme Court will be one which carries great importance so make sure that you watch this space.
If you are currently a victim of the bedroom tax and are unable to pay your full rent then you may receive a notice from your landlord which states that they require possession of the property. This does not mean that you have to give up your property immediately.
If you are in receipt of benefits or on a low income then you may be able to get legal funding to help you obtain advice and assistance from specialist solicitors.
If you receive a notice from your landlord and you are unsure what to do then you can contact us using our online enquiry facility and a member of our team will contact you to discuss what assistance we can provide.
By Jamie Gordon, housing law, graduate paralegal