A Conservative-controlled council unlawfully blocked a family made homeless by the housing benefit cap from getting social housing, a court has found.
The High Court said Westminster City Council was wrong to bar the anonymous family from applying for a home in the borough where they lived.
The plaintiff, known as “Ms A” had lost her family home in Westminster after the LHA benefit cap meant she could no longer afford her rent.
The council, which has a legal duty to house homeless families, shipped Ms A’s family miles out of the borough to Enfield and said they could not reapply for a home in their own neighbourhood least 12 months.
But the High Court ruled that this suspension was unlawful.
“This landmark ruling makes it abundantly clear that homeless people have the right to bid for social housing from the time they secure a full housing duty from a local authority rather than being suspended for one year,” said Jayesh Kunwardia, a lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen.
“Westminster’s subtle way of registering the homeless, saying they will have points but denying them the right to bid for 12 months is now deemed unlawful.”
Last month welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith described caps on benefits as “social justice in action”.
“Welfare reform is improving social mobility for families across the country,” he argued in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“A key example of this is the benefit cap which we brought in to put a stop to sky-high benefit pay-outs.”
While Westminster includes famous sights such as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham palace, the north of the borough has long been home to more mixed communities.
The Government introduced a household welfare benefits cap of £26,000. It says it will lower this limit to £23,000. It has also capped local housing allowance, a cut which affected the family in this case.
The annual Homelessness Monitor survey by the charity Crisis and the anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found in February this year that the wider benefit cap was linked with rising homelessness, especially in London.
The benefit cap was listed as one of the “most problematic aspects of the recent welfare reforms” alongside the bedroom tax and council tax reforms.
The Children’s Society says over 140,000 children are hit by the cap compared to only 60,000 adults while children are more than seven times more likely to lose out from its effects.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
Matthew Reed, the charity’s chief executive, said at the time of the cap’s announcement that it would be responsible for “putting more children on the breadline”.
Labour supports both measures but says some remedial action should be taken to ensure the policy does not reduce homelessness and child poverty.
David Cameron will today in a speech attack what he says is a “damaging culture of welfare dependency” in the UK.
“It took many years for welfare spending to spiral so far out of control, and it’s a project of decade or more to return the system to sanity,” he will say.
Trend working age welfare spending has actually been falling as a proportion of national income, however, according to figures released by the Office of Budget responsibility.
Jan Luba QC, a senior lawyer who represented the family, said the case showed the importance of judicial reviews in ensuring public authorities followed the law.
A Westminster City Council spokesman told the Independent: “We are disappointed with the ruling on this individual case but we will take on board what the judge has said.
“As before, we will continue to take into account the full range of considerations when finding suitable accommodation for those in housing need, including supporting some homeless households in to the private rented sector where is it affordable.
“Our view was that we didn’t want to be adding to the long queues of people waiting for a home at a time when we are trying really hard to get people in to affordable homes, which are in short supply both here and across London.”