Discrimination

November 6th, 2015

In R (Logan) v Havering LBC [2015] EWHC 3193 (Admin) Blake J considered a complaint by Mr Logan, a severely disabled resident in Havering, about the Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2015/2016.  Mr Logan alleged that the Council’s Scheme was discriminatory on grounds of disability and age.

The Judge rejected Mr. Logan’s arguments that the Scheme was discriminatory, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, and in contravention of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 1 Protocol 1. The Court distinguished the case of Burnip v Birmingham City Council [2012] LGR 954 (bedroom tax case in the private sector), holding that that case did not mean that it was “always discriminatory to expect the disabled poor to meet ordinary living expenses out of benefits that are provided because they are disabled. Council tax liability is a general charge on living expenses in the same way as any other item of expenditure that the abled bodied and disabled poor both have to make out of their subsistence budgets”. It was not, in the Judge’s view, “a difference in treatment or an unlawful failure to treat people who are situated differently, to expect that a modest percentage of council tax support be absorbed in the subsistence budgets of the poor generally, even if the benefits forming that budget are provided because of eligibility through the disability gateway.” The Judge also found that the availability of a discretionary scheme to address exceptional hardship provided justification for any indirect difference in treatment. Mr. Logan had himself been a beneficiary of that discretionary scheme.

Blake J did find, however, that not all Members of the Council had paid proper regard to the PSED under Section 149 of the 2010 Act. The Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which had been produced by Council officers, and which had been seen by the Council’s Cabinet, had not been provided directly to the full Council as part of their papers for the decision on the Scheme. The Judge held that the EIA “was adequate to enable members who read it to have due regard to the PSED, but there was insufficient evidence to indicate either that the decision makers had accessed the EIA … or had understood the importance of reading it in order to discharge their statutory obligation.” The Judge observed that it was not sufficient to assume that because Members could have accessed the EIA that they would have done so. “It might have been different if there was clear evidence that every decision taker had been told that they must access the [report to Cabinet] and the EIA to discharge their statutory responsibilities.”

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