Court challenge to benefit changes for 'secure' housing

Woman with head in her hands Image copyright PA
Image caption Solicitors say about 300 similar homes are affected

Housing benefit changes should not apply to people who have had their accommodation adapted to protect them from a violent ex-partner, lawyers will argue later.

The High Court will consider a judicial review challenge to what critics call the "bedroom tax" and supporters call "removing the spare room subsidy".

The claimant and her son say they need their adapted third room, but now only receive benefit for a two-bedroom home.

Ministers are defending the claim.

They say millions of pounds have been made available for council help in the form of the discretionary payment fund.

The woman who has brought the case, known only as "A" for her own safety, has been raped, assaulted, harassed and stalked by an ex-partner.

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Media captionThe victim and her son live in a three-bedroom home in which one room has been specially adapted as a secure space by the police, solicitor Rebekah Carrier says

As part of a sanctuary scheme, she and her son live in a three-bedroom home in which one room has been specially adapted as a safe and secure space by the police.

Under new rules, the woman and her son receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property, which means a reduction in income of 14%.

The converted accommodation also includes a steel door and a fire-proof letter box.

'Matter of principle'

The case was raised by Labour leader Ed Miliband in the House of Commons. During prime minister's questions, who asked: "The government is going to court against a victim of domestic violence... can he just remind us why that's the right thing to do?"

In reply, David Cameron drew his attention to the discretionary fund but Mr Miliband responded: "Many of these victims of domestic violence are not getting the hardship payment.

"Protecting victims of domestic violence should not be a matter of discretion - it is a matter of principle."

The government says it has made nearly £350m available for local authorities to help in such cases.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said it understood the council awarded a payment to make up a shortfall in rent.

The spokesman added that victims of domestic violence living in supported accommodation, such as a woman's refuge, are exempt from the removal of the spare room subsidy.

'Life at risk'

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is defending the claim, having unsuccessfully argued at a hearing in June that it should be dismissed.

The woman's solicitor Rebekah Carrier said Freedom of Information requests had revealed around 300 households are in a similar situation, and 80% of those are not getting the discretionary fund.

"These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country," she said.

"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."

The claim is being supported by domestic violence charity Women's Aid.

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