POLITICS
21/07/2011 13:24 BST | Updated 20/09/2011 06:12 BST

Government Accused Of Acting Outside Its Powers To Introduce Housing Benefit Cuts

PRESS ASSOCIATION - The Government has been accused in the High Court of acting outside its powers when it introduced controversial housing benefit cuts.

The changes brought in earlier this year could lead to thousands of people being made homeless, a judge was told.

Charities say the cuts amount to "social cleansing" and could force thousands of poorer people out of accommodation in expensive areas, particularly in central London.

Ministers argue the new measures, amounting to £2.4 billion in savings, are necessary to tackle the rising cost of benefits and the budget deficit.

On Thursday the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) applied for judicial review of part of the cuts package brought in by Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The challenge is to the legality of national caps imposed on the amount of local housing allowance (LHA) for accommodation of a given size.

The caps mean that LHA weekly rates cannot exceed £250 for a one-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms, £340 for three bedrooms and £400 for four bedrooms.

Martin Westgate QC, appearing for CPAG, accused the minister of acting outside powers conferred on him by the 1996 Housing Act when read with the 1992 Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act.

A further challenge alleges the minister failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the impact of the changes under equality legislation.

Mr Westgate claimed that the caps would have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and single parents whilst producing "relatively modest" savings.