Bedroom Tax victory for Finsbury Park law firm in ‘landmark decision’
Resident had been told she was under-occupying her home due to panic room installed by police
01 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch
Ann Bevington of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors
A FINSBURY Park law firm was key to seeing the controversial “Bedroom Tax” branded as discriminatory in a “landmark decision” at the European Court of Human Rights after a six-year battle this week.
Solicitors from Hopkin Murray Beskine, based in Fonthill Road, represented a vulnerable domestic abuse victim who was told she was under-occupying her council-owned home because of a panic room that was installed for her by the police.
This meant her housing benefit was cut and she struggled to make ends meet.
The team at Hopkin Murray Beskine saw this as a “huge injustice” and took the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg three years after the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom said there had not been any unlawful discrimination. Judges eventually ruled in the firm’s favour with a five to two majority.
“We are delighted with the result at the European Court and it was a wonderful moment receiving a positive judgment. But it was a very collaborative process led by director Rebekah Carrier, and involving the whole firm,” said Ann Bevington, a director at Hopkin Murray Beskine.
The woman represented by Ms Bevington, known only as “A” to protect her identity, found it “essential” to pursue the case for six years.
Ms Bevington said: “She was facing the possibility of losing her home when it was adapted especially for her and her child to be safe when she was in fear of her life. She wanted the case to have an impact on her and all the other people in her situation in the country.”
There are 281 people – the majority women – affected by the bedroom tax who have “sanctuary scheme” adaptations to their homes which includes panic buttons and extra security measures.
These households were penalised after the Bedroom Tax was introduced in 2012.
The aim of the tax is to encourage people in social housing to downsize if they are under-occupying their homes.
“It was quite a challenging case,” Ms Bevington said.
“The Supreme Court had found that the discrimination in this case was justified. And the European Court of Human Rights reached a different view. But in doing so they effectively redefined the test that’s applied in these cases. And it’s about the threshold the government has to meet to justify this kind of discrimination.
“What the European Court of Human Rights found was that very weighty reasons are required and this is actually a landmark decision in terms of the effect it will have on discrimination law and other cases being brought.”
She is now calling on the government to change the law so the tax no longer applies to people in a similar situation to “A”.
The European Court of Human Rights is not an institution of the European Union and will not be affected by the UK’s planned exit from the European Union.