Charlotte and Jayson Carmichael have for years been fighting the bedroom tax, a government policy introduced in 2013 that penalises people in social housing for having an ‘under-occupied’ home.
The Carmichaels were hit with a 14 per cent reduction in their housing benefit in 2013 for purportedly having an extra room.
Yet what the government considered a “spare room” was anything but – because of Charlotte’s spina bifida, she is unable to share a bed with her husband Jayson.
The Carmichaels took their case to the Supreme Court and at the end of last year, they along with another family with a disabled child, won. The court ruled that the government policy discriminated against them because of their disabilities, which is a violation of the Human Rights Act.
The decision forced the government to make changes to the Bedroom Tax which came into effect in March and exempts families from the Tax if certain disabilities are an issue.
But the government decided that the supreme court decision would not be enough for it to reconsider the bedroom tax policy as a whole – even worse, it took the Carmichaels back to court on appeal.
When the Carmichaels were first hit with the bedroom tax, they took their case to a lower court, called the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) – a specialist court which makes decisions on social welfare issues.
The FTT ruled in the Carmichaels favour. The government then appealed, arguing that the FTT did not have the power to make a decision on the bedroom tax.
Even after the Carmichaels then went to the supreme court and won, the government still decided to pursue its appeal of the original FTT decision.
Now, just last week (April 27), the Carmichaels again won, with judges ruling that it was within the remit of the FTT to make the initial decision.
Because the Carmichaels latest case was the lead case in a block of about 170 similar cases going through the courts in England and Wales, the decision is considered significant.
It will mean that families hit with the bedroom tax can avoid taking expensive legal battles to higher courts and can rely on the lower FTT court to make the decision.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that disabled families have to put their lives into fighting for human rights in 2017,” said Jayson Carmichael after his family’s latest win. “We hope our fight, during the election campaign, draws voters’ attention to this.
“We also hope to ensure that everybody in our situation is paid their full entitlement to housing benefit, a position that we were able to secure by using the Human Rights Act to challenge the Bedroom Tax.”
Lucy Cadd, from law firm Leigh Day’s human right team who represents the Carmichaels said, “Whilst this is a complex legal battle, which has been ongoing for a number of years and has straddled several Courts, the impact of the Bedroom Tax on people has been clear. We believe this case is further evidence of a Government which has little concern for equality.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner welcomed the latest ruling but said that the most important next step is scrapping the Bedroom Tax altogether.
“That the government continues to waste exorbitant sums dragging families to court over the bedroom tax – even when the courts continuously rule in families’ favour – shows the abject vindictiveness with which the Tories pursue their twisted ideology.
“The policy is inherently unfair and serves only to punish the poorest and most vulnerable. Despite the changes this year for people with disabilities, hundreds of thousands are still subject to the tax, including victims of domestic violence and the elderly.”
Turner added that it was also worth noting the role that the Human Rights Act had in last week’s victory.
“If it weren’t for the Human Rights Act, which gives effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), these families would not have been able to successfully fight the Bedroom Tax.
“Prime minister Theresa May has repeatedly suggested that she will scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the ECHR. If this isn’t an indication of the direction the Tories want to take us in, one in which we are at the sole mercy of a government that is bent on slashing our most basic rights, then I don’t know what it is.”
“Labour on the other hand has pledged from the beginning that it would scrap the hated Bedroom Tax, and defending the Human Rights Act is explicitly among the party’s ten pledges to transform Britain. On June 8, we have a definitive opportunity to make our voices heard loud and clear on the Bedroom Tax and end it once and for all.”