Bedroom tax case fails

On 21 February 2014, in the case of R v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal which claimed that the 'benefit cap' breached human rights law.

Benefit cap

On November 29, 2012, the Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/2994) were introduced, in accordance with powers granted by the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The claimants were three single parents, in receipt of housing benefit and a child of each of the parent claimants.

1. MG lived in a flat with her four sons. She was a devout Roman Catholic who believed contraception to be against the will of God. The effect of the cap was to reduce her total income from benefits by £176.75 per week.

2. NS lived in a flat with her three daughters. She had been subjected to sexual abuse and domestic violence from her former husband, with whom she no longer lived. The effect of the cap was to reduce her total income from benefits by £54.50 per week. If she was still living with her husband, he would be eligible for working tax credit and the cap would not apply.

3. SG lived in a flat with three of her six children. She was an orthodox Jew. Two of her children attended a local Jewish school. One of her other children was in foster care nearby. The effect of the cap was to reduce her total income from benefits by £85.40 per week.

The claimants all contended that they were unable to mitigate the effects of the cap e.g. by finding work or moving home and that the benefit cap was unlawful because:

  • it discriminated against them as women general and/or as victims of domestic violence.
  • it breached their human rights.
  • it was irrational.

The claimants were granted permission for judicial review but the claim was dismissed in the High Court. The claimants appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal

Before the appeal was heard, MG had moved to alternative accommodation and was no longer subject to the benefit cap and her claim was discontinued.

The Court of Appeal said that the scheme was fair and that the cap was an aspect of social policy on the distribution of state benefits which had been debated in Parliament and the Regulations approved by Parliament. It concluded that the High Court was entitled to refuse to decide whether the cap had a disproportionate adverse impact on victims of domestic violence.

There had been no breach of anyone's human rights.