Court holds differential treatment of Romani Gypsies under the Housing Benefit scheme is objectively justified

Friday 18 January 2013

Marc Willers and Desmond Rutledge appeared for the Claimants in R (Knowles & Anor) v Secretary Of State for Work and Pensions [2013] EWHC 19 (Admin).

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The case concerned a human rights challenge brought on behalf of two Romani Gypsies who were faced with a significant shortfall in their rent, due to the way Housing Benefit ('HB') is calculated for rent on privately owned caravan sites. The HB claims were referred for a rent officer's determination, which had the effect of restricting the HB that could be paid towards the rent of £80 to £50 per week initially, which was then reduced to £36.12 per week. The human rights challenge under article 14 (read with article 1 of protocol 1/article 8) being that the situation of Gypsies and Travellers on private sites (whose HB is assessed without account being taken of the additional costs of their sites) is adversely differential and prima facie discriminatory when that situation is compared with: (i) non-Gypsies and Travellers on private sites (who do not have such additional costs) and/or (ii) the situation of Gypsies and Travellers on public sites (who are paid full HB on their rent).

Hickinbottom J said that on the assumption that, because of their mode of living, Gypsies and Travellers have increased accommodation costs, then the claim was properly put on the basis of the European Court of Human Rights' judgment in Thlimmenos. The Judge, however, was unconvinced that the additional costs were attributable to accommodation costs (or fell within the scope of eligible rent under the HB scheme). Nevertheless, proceeding on the assumption that the additional costs were within the scope of eligible rent for the purposes of the scheme, and applying the wide margin of appreciation for discrimination claims in social security, the Judge said he was quite satisfied that the treatment of Gypsies and Travellers on private sites under the HB scheme was objectively justified.

Marc Willers and Desmond Rutledge were instructed by Helen Dent of Keoghs Nicholls Lindell & Harris Solicitors.

Marc is part of the Garden Court Chambers' Romani Gypsy and Traveller Rights Team.

Desmond is part of Garden Court Chambers' Welfare Benefits Team.

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