High Court challenge to housing benefit cuts

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Housing benefit cuts introduced by the government have been challenged in the High Court.

Lawyers for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) argued that the changes, brought in earlier this year, could lead to a rise in homelessness.

Charities claim the move amounts to "social cleansing" and will force poorer people out of accommodation in expensive areas, especially in London.

Ministers have said the previous benefits system was unfair.

They said that the new measures, which amount to £2.4bn in savings, were necessary to tackle the rising cost of benefits and the budget deficit.

Equality legislation

The CPAG has applied for judicial review of part of the cuts package brought in by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

It is challenging the legality of national caps imposed on the amount of local housing allowance (LHA) for accommodation of a given size.

The caps mean LHA weekly rates cannot exceed £250 for a one-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms, £340 for three bedrooms and £400 for four bedrooms.

Martin Westgate QC, presenting the case for the CPAG, accused Mr Duncan Smith of acting outside his powers.

He also alleged the minister failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the impact of the changes under equality legislation.

'Modest savings'

This applies in particular to the decision to reduce the maximum size accommodation available for housing benefit from five bedrooms to four.

Mr Westgate claimed the caps would have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and single parents while producing "relatively modest" savings.

He said a report from the New Policy Institute, commissioned by the CPAG, showed large families with four or more children were roughly twice as likely to be ethnic minority households than white British households.

Mr Westgate told Mr Justice Supperstone the caps were almost exclusively directed at London, as of the 21,000 households likely to be affected 17,410 were in the London area.

He said a relatively small group of London families would have to bear the vast majority of the £255m the government anticipated saving as a result of the changes.

But the government argues the new benefits caps will help create a fairer system for taxpayers and provide greater incentives for people to work.

It has also said the housing benefit bill has almost doubled in the past decade.

The hearing continues.

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