The Ulster Unionist Party’s Social Development Spokesperson, Michael Copeland MLA, has warned that even though a challenge brought by disabled families against bedroom tax has been rejected by the High Court in England, it will not prevent similar challenges being brought here.
The East Belfast MLA said;
“A raft of legislation exists to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Nevertheless, the Coalition Government in England, have seemingly had no ethical difficulty in pushing through the bedroom tax. Whilst the Ulster Unionist Party believes that housing allocations should reflect the number of people in each household, it must be understood that in some circumstances it is necessary to have more space than what may be otherwise considered adequate.
A typical example of this would be a household where one or more of the people living in it have a disability. Additional space is often required to fit specialist equipment or even an additional bed as some people are inevitably unable to share with a partner. In April this year my Party tabled a number of amendments to this draft Bill; one of which was exempting households with people with a disability from the bedroom tax. We are still awaiting the next anticipated stage of this Bill so that we can formally propose our changes to it.
Whilst the High Court ruling in England is of course disappointing, the Department of Social Development and the Courts in Northern Ireland should expect similar challenges brought against the proposal here.
Lord Justice Laws’ was quite emphatic in his ruling that the issue was not for the courts to resolve. In the ruling he states ‘it is not generally for the courts to resolve the controversies which this insistence involves. That is for elected government. The cause of constitutional rights is not best served by an ambitious expansion of judicial territory, for the courts are not the proper arbiters of political controversy.’
The challenge is clear – it’s not for the courts to rule against it but instead for politicians not to legislate for it in the first place. I would once again call on the Social Development Minister to rule out bringing forward the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland until efforts are made to address the shortfalls in our social housing stock and until such inequities forced upon people with disabilities in England are removed. Whilst Mr McCausland may shortly try to use the smokescreen of increasing funding for discretionary support, unless he addresses the failings at the heart of this tax, we will continue to oppose it.”