As part of the coalition government’s welfare reforms, Support for Mortgage Interest, a benefit paid to assist those on other income-related benefits with the interest they were required to pay on their mortgage, was replaced with Loans for Mortgage Interest, which provides the same level of support, but which has to be repaid on sale of the relevant property or death. Two groups of disabled claimants brought challenges to the new scheme on the grounds that it was discriminatory contrary to Article 14 ECHR and under the Equality Act 2010, and for failure to comply with the public sector equality duty.
The first set of claimants were severely disabled women suffering from multiple sclerosis whose partners were in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, as well as one of their children. They contended that the scheme as a whole, alternatively the requirement to repay on sale failed, without objective and reasonable justification failed to treat differently disabled people with partners in receipt of CA and/or those with dependent children, contrary to the Thlimmenos principle under Article 14 ECHR, read together with Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In respect of this claim, the Court (Mrs Justice Andrews) held that the move from a benefit to a loan did not fall within the ambit of any Convention rights and so Article 14 was not engaged in that respect. Further, the Court did not consider that the Claimants were in a significantly different position to the comparator class, which includes many other people who would only be able to repay the loan on sale and for whom that could also cause hardship. The Court also considered that the best interests of children had been appropriately considered in accordance with the UNCRC.
The second claim was brought on behalf of a man with multiple physical and learning disabilities who lacks capacity. On his behalf it was contended that the automatic nature of the repayment on sale requirement discriminates against disabled people, or those at an enhanced risk of needing to move because of their disability-related needs. In respect of this claim, the Court considered that the automatic nature of the repayment on sale requirement was justified as not manifestly without reasonable foundation. It also held that disabled persons at enhanced risk of having to move was too nebulous a group to constitute a “status” for the purposes of Article 14 ECHR. The PSED challenge in both cases was rejected on the basis that the government had had the requisite due regard when formulating the new scheme.
The judgment is available here.
Paul Skinner was involved in this case.