Not enough has been said about the human rights legal dimension to the successful bedroom tax cases in the Supreme Court. It is important for two reasons:
- The cases succeeded thanks to Britain’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights where homegrown “British” law was unable to help (apart from the Human Rights Act, giving access to ECHR remedies). Neither English Common Law nor British parliamentary anti-discrimination legislation could assist either the Rutherfords or Jacqueline Carmichael gain exemption from having housing benefit docked for their “extra” bedrooms.
- An earlier judgment of one of the cases, when it came before Lord Justice Laws, was intended to place a clear marker down discouraging such cases based on ECHR rights on the grounds that “the courts are not the proper arbiters of public controversy”. The Supreme Court has therefore repudiated Laws’ attack on ECHR remedies.
The legal cases
The cases challenged the bedroom tax regulation on the grounds that it failed to give entitlement to an extra bedroom (without having housing benefit reduced) in cases where the bedrooms were needed for disabled people. The regulation restricts exemptions to “a relevant person … who requires overnight care; or a relevant person [who] is a qualifying parent or carer” (Regulation B13 (6). The relevant person (in paragraph 9) is the housing benefit claimant, his/her partner or another person liable to pay rent and his/her partner (see regulations below in full). But, as Lord Toulson noted in the latest case: “A person who requires overnight care is defined in Reg 2(1) in terms which have the effect of not including any child”. Read the rest of this entry