The government will be forced to fight for its controversial housing benefit reforms in court, after a child poverty charity won the right to challenge their legality.
Government lawyers are due to appear at the High Court today (Friday) to defend caps on local housing allowance introduced on 1 April.
A judge granted the Child Poverty Action Group a fast-track judicial review into the restrictions at a hearing in May. If CPAG wins, the reforms will be ruled unlawful.
The Department for Work and Pensions will be expected to present evidence justifying the reforms, following a direction by Lord Justice Collins last month. The information its lawyers provide will feed into the judicial review at the end of July.
CPAG is challenging the national cap on LHA, paid to tenants in the private rented sector, and a restriction preventing payments exceeding the cost of renting a four-bed home, regardless of household size.
The measures have been introduced ahead of the absorbtion of LHA into the universal credit, which will be created by the Welfare Reform Bill. The draft legislation has just completed the committee stage in the House of Commons.
We are convinced that the secretary of state has more information about how it impacts on [black and minority ethnic] groups and different groups
Graham Tegg, a solicitor at CPAG
The caps are a key part of the welfare reform programme launched after last July’s emergency Budget to slash £1 billion from the £21 billion housing benefit bill by 2015/16.
Graham Tegg, a solicitor at CPAG, described housing benefit payments which failed to cover households’ rents as ‘completely meaningless’.
‘We have analysed the statistical information in a certain way which says the number of properties available in five boroughs in central London becomes nugatory,’ he added.
CPAG claims up to 9,000 households – including more than 20,000 children – could be force to move from their homes as a result of the reforms. Its figures have been disputed by the DWP which claims that a ‘tiny minority’ will be forced to move.
CPAG will seek to persuade the court that the caps on LHA are incompatible with a national welfare regime. ‘Housing benefit is a national scheme and it is arguable that it wouldn’t be a national scheme if these changes go ahead,’ Mr Tegg said. ‘We are convinced that the secretary of state has more information about how it impacts on [black and minority ethnic] groups and different groups.’
Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘It is probably reasonable to have some capping system overall but setting it on a Great Britain-wide basis is probably, arguably unfair.’
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We are aware that a judicial review has been granted, we note the decision and stand by our reform programme.’
Inside Housing has been seeking a more equitable approach to welfare reform as part of its What’s the Benefit? campaign.