Judicial review challenge will argue that tax is discriminatory and will have devastating impact on abused woman and her son
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 November 2014 17.38 GMT
A woman whose council home has been fitted with a secure panic room to protect her from a violent ex-partner is going to court on Wednesday to challenge the government’s so-called bedroom tax.
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to withdraw the demand despite losing an earlier attempt to have the test case dismissed.
The woman, who lives in a three-bedroom property with her 11-year-old son, has been the victim of rape, assault, harassment, stalking and threats to kill at the hands of her former partner. She is not being identified.
The local council has told her she will lose £11.65 a week from her benefits on the grounds that she has a spare room, which is the panic room.
Ministers argue that the bedroom tax, which the DWP calls the spare room subsidy, will encourage people to move to smaller properties, saving around £480m a year from the government’s housing benefit bill.
The woman, referred in the case as A, is one of a small number of victims of domestic violence who will be affected by the policy. According to figures obtained through freedom of information inquiries from 79 local authorities, almost one in 20 households benefiting from similar sanctuary schemes for people at risk of severe domestic violence have been affected by the under-occupancy penalty. Across the country, 281 such households are facing bedroom tax demands.
The high court in London will hear her lawyers argue in a judicial review challenge that the tax is discriminatory and will have a devastating impact on A and her son. They will claim that it has a disproportionate effect on victims of domestic violence, most of whom are women.
A women’s refuge charity has spent thousands of pounds at A’s property reinforcing window frames and the front door and making the back garden more secure. A panic space has been installed, with alarms linked to the police station.
The woman’s housing benefit has been reduced by 14% because of the bedroom tax policy.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said: “These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger.
“She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
A’s claim is supported by evidence from the charity Women’s Aid on the prevalence of domestic violence and the important function of sanctuary schemes in providing protection and preventing homelessness for those at risk.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Sanctuary schemes are created to keep extremely vulnerable women and children safe, at a time when they are trying to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence. An investment has been made in keeping these women safe and to move these families out of their homes is a false economy as it will cost further money to provide security as the new property, and this may provide a reduced level of safety, putting them at risk.
“It is important to remember that on average two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Protecting abused women and their children is a matter of life and death, and we should always remember this.”
A DWP spokesman said: “This is exactly why we have made £345m available to councils to help vulnerable people. We understand the council have awarded a payment to make up a shortfall in rent.”
• This article was amended on Wednesday 19 November to add a quote from a DWP spokesman.