Wigan to lead legal challenge

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron
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ANGRY Wigan tenants are likely to be in the vanguard of a predicted avalanche of anti-Bedroom Tax legal claims.

Housing professionals, including the boss of Wigan and Leigh Housing (WALH), expect the courts to be inundated with thousands of cases when the Government’s controversial legislation aimed at ending supposed under-occupation becomes live on April 1.

They calculate that the rule change will mean a flood of new appeals landing on the desks of the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal.

Also predicted is a hike in the number of proceedings in the county court system for housing repossessions.

Parents of disabled children lodged at least 10 separate legal challenges to the Bedroom Tax earlier this month against Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Under the Bedroom Tax rules - now being dubbed Prime Minister David’s Cameron’s “very own Poll Tax crisis” - social tenants of working age who currently receive housing benefit will see it cut if they have at least one “spare” bedroom.

Children who are under the age of 10 are now expected by the Government to share a room, and same-sex under 16 years of age must share.

Tenants affected across the borough will be able to appeal from the start of April.

As one of the worst-hit local authorities in the country - more than 4,700 families affected - it is predicted Wigan will take a leading role in legally testing the Coalition’s most disputed proposals since the General Election.

On the first instance appeals must be lodged with WALH but disputes will eventually progress to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal.

Introduction of the bedroom tax also coincides with the Government’s move to withdraw the right to legal aid for “first tier” tribunal welfare benefit cases.

Tenants groups claim that this could lead to a slower and inferior process ... while some tenants may now find themselves being unable to bring cases at all.

The latest assessments show that at least 660,000 households will be affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Chief executive of WALH Ashley Crumbley said: “The Government’s original case for the now commonly called Bedroom Tax was to save on the welfare budget.

“But its own Department of Work and Pensions has clearly failed to calculate the real impact on the public purse.

“It is correct that it is causing very serious concern and the housing providers and public bodies are expecting the Bedroom Tax to generate many legal cases and a significant figure for legal costs.

“In our own portfolio which we manage on behalf of the council there are 550 households where at least one of the occupants there is disabled and living in an adapted dwelling who is set to be affected by the Bedroom Tax. They will have to move and we are anticipating a £1m cost to the public purse just to adapt their new properties.”