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March miscellany


A couple of bits and pieces.

The DWP has issued a circular in the wake of the Court of Appeal judgment in MA & Ors, R (on the application of) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13 (Our report coming soon, honest).  The Circular, U2/2014, contains what is effectively an admission that it is only the increased DHP funding that is keeping the bedroom tax from being unjustified discrimination:

The Court of Appeal also noted that the DHP scheme was different from the one considered by the Court in Burnip as the fund had been increased, the guidance had been altered and the Secretary of State had pledged to keep it under review.

The DWPs position on maintaining DHP funding levels would appear to be pretty circumscribed. In order to win the challenges, it has placed itself in a position from which there is no easy exit.

In addition, the circular encourages councils to use the MA judgment to appeal any FTT decisions based on Article 14 disability discrimination. At 7:

Local authorities (LA) should ensure that this decision is quoted when appealing against adverse First-tier Tribunal decisions that raise similar issues. Annex A provides details of the individual cases in this appeal where an under-occupancy reduction has been applied in line with the legislation. The Court of Appeal has confirmed that these decisions are lawful.

In MA, in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, the DWP position was:

the Secretary of State has made it clear that he does not admit the alleged details in any of the cases: in the event of a successful challenge in these proceedings, it would be for the local authorities concerned to consider each claimant’s application for HB and assess the particular facts of the case as part of that process.

However, the Annex to the Circular contains the specific disabilities and circumstances of the claimants in MA, stated as fact. If MA does go to the Supreme Court, it would appear that the DWP can be taken to have admitted the details of the claimants’ circumstances. The Annex also makes grim reading, as the DWP is using these circumstances as evidence of the kinds of situation in which the bedroom tax should apply – for example:

[JC] lives with her husband in a two bedroom flat. He is her full-time carer. She has spina bifida, hydrocephalus, is doubly incontinent, is unable to weight bear, and has recurring pressure sores. She needs a special hospital-type bed in her bedroom with an electronic pressure mattress, specially designed to fit a single hospital bed. She has to sleep in a fixed position. She requires specialist in-bed toileting equipment, medical sheets and incontinence pads. She and her husband cannot share a bed. There is no space for an additional bed in the room.

Of course, councils are told:

LAs retain the responsibility for deciding whether, in cases where a claimant faces a shortfall in their rent, a DHP is appropriate and for what period. The judgement does not imply that all disabled people should be awarded a DHP, but LAs can consider the particular needs of disabled claimants in assessing applications.

Tangentially linked, through housing benefit being involved, is this story of dubious goings on in London.

On Friday 7 March, Channel 4 news ran an item on one of the largest ‘guaranteed rent’ (aka Rent 2 rent) set ups in London, London Housing Solutions and its murky relation with Local Housing Solutions which has seen one firm apparently take over from the other, but with some £400,000 of rent received from tenants going missing. We were scathing about Rent 2 Rent here and this story does nothing to encourage confidence in this form of sub-letting. Both the tenants and the property owners were done over badly. It appears that Local Housing Solutions are approaching those property owners left without payment by London Housing Solutions and offering to take over the contracts, without, of course, any payment of the past missing rent. (I have a walk on appearance at the end of the piece).

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


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