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15 APR 2013

R (on the application of Knowles and Another) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2013] EWHC 19 (Admin); (2013) PLLR 020

Community Care - Housing Benefit - Rent - Romani Gypsies - Private landlords

The Defendant was justified in providing different rent rebates to Romani Gypsies living on privately run caravan sites. This treatment did not constitute discriminatory treatment.

17 January 2013

Administrative Court

Hickinbottom J

(1)        The Claimants, Romani Gypsies, complained that the occupier of a caravan who is entitled to Housing Benefit and is on local authority land receives a full housing benefit rent rebate; but if the caravan is on private land, then the rent recoverable is subject to determination by a rent officer, and this is frequently considerably less than the full rent charged. It was alleged that the scheme therefore failed to meet the essential housing needs of those living on private sites.

(2)        It was submitted that the scheme, and resultant decisions, were discriminatory and in breach of Article 14 and Article 8 of the ECHR.

(3)        For approximately 13 years, the Claimants had lived on a site in Morecambe. The rent for each of them was £60 per week and, as the landlord was the housing authority, the rent was automatically entirely reimbursed through the housing benefit rent rebate. Due to concerns about anti-social behaviour, both Claimants decided to move in 2009. They made enquiries and in August 2009 moved to the only available and suitable site, a private site costing £85 rent per week.

(4)        The housing benefit rent assessment undertaken by a rent officer set the appropriate rate as £50 per week. Upon requests for redetermination of this, the rent was then reduced twice, eventually to £36.13. The assessor found, on each occasion, that the rent paid was very high, and a reasonable rent would have been £60. There was therefore a considerable shortfall between the contractual rent, and the rent allowance paid by housing benefit.

(5)        The basis of the claim was that the landlord of a Gypsy and Traveller site is subject to costs that a landlord of a non-Gypsy and Traveller site is not, and that these additional costs are attributable to accommodation or housing, so they should be recoverable as part of housing benefit.

(6)        HELD: The housing benefit scheme is not intended to cater for non-housing costs. The housing authority was correct not to include non-housing costs in its rent assessment, as this would have been unlawful. Furthermore, the additional costs of running a Gypsy and Traveller site were ‘unparticularised and unquantified'.

(7)        On the evidence, the Court was unconvinced that the additional costs were significant, and this finding was sufficient to dismiss the claim. Further, even if the costs were attributable to accommodation, the Court, in applying the wide margin of appreciation applicable in relation to Article 14, considered that the treatment was objectively justified for the following reasons:

(a)        the Courts are cautious to interfere with the wide margin of appreciation that the legislature and executive have in relation to economic and social policy;

(b)        there was no evidence that the Claimant's site had additional costs;

(c)        there was no intentional or direct discrimination in treating the Claimants differently as Gypsies and Travellers with a private landlord;

(d)        those affected were not the whole of an ethnic group;

(e)        the submission that the scheme did not take into account factors other than costs was rejected, as the Ministerial Paper had set out the pros and cons of a number of options;

(f)        there was no inevitability that the Claimants would be made homeless, nor would they be prevented from continuing their traditional way of life; and

(g)        The Claimants chose to move into a private market.

(8)        The Court thus concluded that the treatment of the Claimants was objectively justified and was reasonable and proportionate. The policy was ‘not manifestly without reasonable foundation'.

(9)        Whilst the Court offered its sympathy, it held that many on housing benefit, whether in mobile homes or bricks and mortar, live under the severe financial pressure. The claim was thus held to have failed.

Claim failed.

Key paragraphs

[62]-[65] - Article 14

[80] - Not cover non-housing costs.

[82] - Unlawful include non-housing costs.

[84] - Dismiss.

[97] - Treatment justified.

[98]-[99] - Conclusion

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