Bedroom tax: MS sufferer wins human rights appeal

A woman who cannot share a bedroom with her partner because of disability has won a landmark ruling that reducing her welfare benefits under the bedroom tax is a breach of her human rights.

The woman, who has multiple sclerosis, won her appeal against Glasgow City Council’s decision to apply the 14 per cent deduction for her “spare” bedroom at a tribunal hearing.

Imposing the policy would breach the woman’s human rights, the presiding judge ruled, because her disability meant her husband had to use the second bedroom. It is thought to be the first legal decision of its kind over the tax.

The judge said the bedroom tax should not apply “where separate bedrooms are needed for members of a couple who, in absence of a severe disability, could reasonably be expected to share a single room”. Last night, human rights lawyers told The Scotsman that the case was likely to have a major knock-on effect in other pending cases against the contentious policy introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Gordon Dangerfield, a Glasgow based solicitor, said he would study the ruling to see how it could be used in the more than 50 cases on his books.

Mr Dangerfeld, of Archer Coyle, said: “There are a great many cases against the bedroom tax and the result of this case on human rights grounds is bound to have huge implications.

“It’s a highly significant and welcome judgment because it’s on human rights grounds, which is on the same basis as a lot of the cases that are pending.”

The council ruling followed a Court of Appeal case in March which found the policy should not apply to children who could not share a bedroom because of their disability.

The woman, whose name has been redacted from the judgment to protect her privacy, lived in a two-bedroom flat, with her bedroom adapted to meet her care needs.

Her husband had to sleep in the second bedroom because of the adaptations. He provided care for her overnight.

She was told in February that her benefits would be deducted under the bedroom tax when it came into force in April. She was not granted discretionary housing payment and went into arrears in July.

Judge Boyd said the bedroom tax legislation should be read as not applying to couples in the same situation. The decision of the first-tier tribunal does not set a legal precedent, but may be persuasive in similar cases.

The appellant’s solicitor, Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre, said: “We think this decision – which we understand may be the first reported success in using unlawful discrimination and human rights law to challenge a bedroom tax decision in the UK – will be of great significance to other severely disabled people in similar circumstances to our client.”

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who is leading a campaign against the bedroom tax, also welcomed the tribunal’s ruling.

She said: “It’s an extremely significant ruling and, as each day passes, this flawed policy is unravelling more and more.

“Now we’ve had a ruling that could open up more cases on human rights grounds, it’s about time the Tories rethought their approach on this.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said that the authority was “aware of the ruling and is now considering the implications of it”. However, it is understood the Labour-run authority is unlikely to appeal.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last night insisted that the ruling did not set any legal precedents, although officials have yet to decide whether to lodge an appeal.

A DWP spokesman said: “We will need to look at this 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.”