Bedroom tax defeat for Westminster council in landmark case

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue Oct 1 12:39:26 BST 2013

Bedroom tax defeat for Westminster council in landmark case

Barrister Surinder Lall, who is blind, wins 
appeal as his spare room stores essential 
equipment and has never been a bedroom

Dave Hill
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 12.02 BST
Jump to comments (345)

Surinder Lall won his bedroom tax appeal against 
Westminster council, saying his spare room was 
used to store vital equipment to aid him in his 
life and work, as he is blind. Photograph: ITV News

A housing association tenant in central London 
has won an appeal against the imposition of the 
bedroom tax by Conservative-run Westminster city 
council, in what is thought to be the first such victory in England.

Surinder Lall, who is blind, argued successfully 
to a tribunal that a room in his flat classified 
as a second bedroom had never been used as one 
and had always been where equipment helping him to lead a normal life was kept.

In his decision notice, the judge wrote: "The 
term 'bedroom' is nowhere defined [in the 
relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary 
English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined."

The council, which had decided in March to cut 
what the government calls the spare room subsidy 
element of Lall's housing benefit, did not attend 
the hearing and will not appeal, although the 
Department for Work and Pensions has said it may do so.

The hearing came as the UN insisted that its 
special rapporteur, who was highly critical of 
the government's policy during an official visit 
earlier this month, said she had acted properly 
and not broken any rules. The Conservative party 
chairman, Grant Shapps, had written to the UN 
secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, criticising 
Raquel Rolnik's intervention and accusing her of political bias.

Jane Connors, an aide to the UN high commissioner 
for human rights, said: "Ms Rolnik serves in an 
independent capacity and in accordance with a 
code of conduct adopted by the council. She is 
not a staff member of the UN, is neither 
accountable to nor appointed by the secretary 
general." She added that Rolnik's visit had been 
planned and organised over many months in 
consultation with the government and in compliance with rules and procedures.

Around 80,000 London households are affected by 
the bedroom tax, of which more than 50,000 
comprise or include disabled people. Lall, who 
qualified as a barrister in 1988 and lost what 
remained of his sight in the same year, would 
have had his housing benefit cut by £12 a week.

Westminster council said it had previously 
invited him to apply for a discretionary payment 
from a £190m fund made available by the 
government for disabled and other vulnerable 
tenants in order to make up the shortfall. 
However, Lall did not take up the invitation from the council.

Lall said his case clearly demonstrated that an 
additional room used for equipment required by a 
disabled person fell outside the scope of the 
regulations and should stop local housing 
departments simply using the term bedroom in 
tenancy agreements to cut benefits.

Westminster stressed it had based its decision to 
cut his benefit on the information supplied by 
his landlord, which had classified the equipment 
room as a bedroom until shortly before the tribunal hearing.

Coral Williams, a solicitor who assisted Lall 
with his case, said local authorities and social 
housing tenants should look closely at the decision.

It follows recent successful appeals against the 
bedroom tax in Scotland, where arguments about 
the use of rooms by disabled people have been 
similarly deployed. Questions have also been 
raised about the extent to which councils should 
rely on housing association data when imposing 
the government's penalty for supposed under-occupation.

Permission was granted on Wednesday for lawyers 
representing adults and children with 
disabilities who are challenging the bedroom tax 
to take their fight to the court of appeal, after 
losing a high court challenge in July.
+44 (0)7786 952037
Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered 
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that 
shall not be made known. What I tell you in 
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye 
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list