The ‘West End Extra’ reports;
“A BLIND man from Maida Vale has won a landmark legal victory against Westminster Council that means he will not have to pay the controversial bedroom tax.
Surinder Lall was facing a £12-a-week cut to his housing benefit because a room that houses vital equipment, allowing him to live an independent life, was seen as a “spare bedroom” by the council.
But last week a judge ruled that the room could not be classed as a bedroom and he will now be entitled to full housing benefit.
Mr Lall, who lives alone, says the room holds essential pieces of technology such as an electronic magnifying glass and computer that allow him to read and access the internet.
The council had contacted Mr Lall to say he would have to pay the government’s under-occupation penalty, which means households judged to have a “spare bedroom” are punished with a 14 per cent cut to their housing benefit, while those with two spare rooms lose 25 per cent each week.
Mr Lall, who trained as a barrister, had been told he was able to apply for a discretionary housing payment to make up the gap in his benefit, but he decided instead to fight the decision and successfully argued his case at a benefit appeal tribunal. This week he told ITV London: “It’s a misnomer to call it a bedroom. It’s a room that is used for the placement and usage of my equipment.
“It is nonsense to talk of additional rooms as being bedrooms, there isn’t a bed in there, there’s all my equipment in there. It enables me to function independently. I can do a lot of things without the help of other people.”
Solicitor Coral Williams, who assisted with the case, said: “What the judge said was that there was nowhere in the regulations that defines a bedroom, but what the judge said in Mr Lall’s case is that it was not a bedroom. This is the first case of its kind in the tribunal in England… the very first step. I have to be clear it is not binding at the moment.”
The judge said: “I have found that the room in question was never intended to be a bedroom, and has never been used as a bedroom. It contains equipment necessary for the appellant to try and overcome his disability.”
The council has said they would not appeal the decision, but the Department for Work and Pensions has said it may do so.
A spokesman for the council said they had “…reduced Mr Lall’s housing benefit on the grounds his landlord described the property as having two bedrooms – under national regulations, it is up to the landlord to list the number of bedrooms in a property, not the government or the local authority. The housing association changed its assesment shortly before the tribunal case which supported Mr Lall’s argument that the additional room was not a bedroom, but a space to store equipment needed by a disabled person. The council had previously invited Mr Lall to apply for a discretionary housing payment to make up the shortfall from the loss of housing benefit stemming from a second bedroom, but he turned this down. Westminster Council has a number of measures in place to help those who may be affected by welfare reform, including specialist advisers.”