Iain Duncan Smith refused to reveal today how much taxpayers’ money he plans to spend appealing against a court ruling that the Bedroom Tax discriminates against domestic abuse victims.
In the Commons this afternoon, Mr Duncan Smith and his ministerial colleagues in the Department of Work and Pensions repeatedly refused to answer Labour’s questions over the action.
Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled the under-occupancy penalty – dubbed the Bedroom Tax by its opponents – discriminated against domestic violence victims living in adapted accommodation and carers of severely disabled children.
Today, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith claimed it would cost around £200,000 to exempt the 280 domestic violence victims affected by the penalty.
He added: “How much it is going to cost him instead to try and defeat those victims in the Supreme Court.
“Is it more or less than the cost of exempting them?”
Initially, the Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson replied on behalf of the Government, and did not address the question of cost.
Minutes later, Labour MP Rupa Huq got to her feet to challenge Mr Duncan Smith directly.
She said: “Last week the Bedroom Tax was called unlawful in the Court of Appeal for discriminating against domestic violence victims and disabled children, yet the government is set to spend more on appealing the decision than to abide by the ruling. Surely the minister must agree that this is poor value for the taxpayer and this despicable and discredited policy needs to go?’
Mr Duncan Smith replied: “I have to say the honourable lady needs to check her lines before she makes a statement like that. The truth is that was not what the Court of Appeal said last week.
“The debate in the Court of Appeal was whether or not we should isolate individual groups and rule them out of a benefit system or leave it to local authorities with extra money.
“We absolutely believe that local authorities are quite capable with the extra money we are giving them through discretionary housing payments to allow people to be able to stay there where they think that’s necessary without limitation.
“But the thing I really wonder about, and from the frontbench as well, is they never, ever, ever talk about those they left in overcrowded homes, on waiting lists and unable to get a decent home. They were the ones who introduced this policy, we have just followed through.”
The penalty came into force in 2013, and means that people who receive housing benefit and are deemed to have spare rooms get less money.
The rational behind the plan is to encourage people to downsize in order to free up larger properties for families in unsuitable accommodation.