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Bedroom tax case: don’t forget the ECHR

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.
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AA v Southwark – a conspiracy to evict ‘whether lawfully or not’

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A British High Court judge has accused officers at Southwark Council, London, of conspiracy to cause harm to a council tenant by unlawfully destroying his possessions and an illegal eviction. The council has been forced to compensate the tenant, AA, left street-homeless without income or possessions by the eviction, for an unknown sum. AA’s original claim was for £2.4m.

The judge, Anthony Thornton QC, in AA v London Borough of Southwark, said council officers were determined to secure the eviction “whether it was lawful or not”. As a result officers and the council itself were liable for misfeasance in public office. “They had limited prospects of evicting him lawfully and they therefore appear to have embarked on an eviction with the intention of evicting AA even though this could not be done lawfully.”

The entire contents of AA’s flat in Peckham, including his passport, laptops, papers, personal belongings and furniture were removed and illegally destroyed in a refuse disposal facility. The court heard that AA had made repeated attempts in the High Court and County Court to regain possession of his flat and to regain his belongings and also tried to discuss his predicament with council officials. As a result of his eviction he was street homeless for more than a year except for the use of a sofa or floor space in  friends homes for part of the time. His only income was financial assistance from those friends.

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