Government racks up near £500,000 bill fighting 'bedroom tax' cases

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The Government has spent almost £500,000 on legal fees fighting families who appealed over the controversial so-called "bedroom tax", new figures show.

The total cost of legal proceedings in the landmark cases at the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court was £484,000, according to figures released to Parliament by Work and Pensions minister Caroline Nokes.

The figures also reveal that Government lawyers spent around 1,365 hours working on these cases - the equivalent of 57 days.

The legal cases came as a number families challenged the Government over its spare room subsidy, where housing benefit is withdrawn from tenants judged to have an extra bedroom they do not need.

Labour MP Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) said: "I wish I could say that I'm surprised by how much money the Government spent on legal action in respect to the bedroom tax cases that were before the Supreme Court.

"But, given that this is the same Tory party that introduced the cruel and unfair bedroom tax in the first place, it is no surprise at all.

"This is further confirmation of what we already know - this Tory Government is more willing to defend its own vindictive policies than the rights and wellbeing of the British public."

Responding to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen), Ms Nokes said the £484,000 figure included counsel's fees, Government legal department litigation fees and other disbursements, as well as VAT where payable.

This includes legal fees totalling £207,000 that were spent specifically when seven cases reached the Supreme Court.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Jacqueline Carmichael, saying she could not share a bedroom with her husband because of her disabilities, and Sue and Paul Rutherford, the grandparents of a severely disabled child who need an additional room for the child's overnight carer.

The Government's removal of the spare room subsidy, known commonly as the bedroom tax, was found to discriminate against their disabilities under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The five other cases that were appealed to the Supreme Court went in the Government's favour.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "It is wrong that under the old system the taxpayer had to subsidise benefit claimants to live in houses which were larger than they needed.

"Removing the spare room subsidy has restored fairness to the system, and is saving around half a billion pounds of taxpayers' money every year.

"It is welcome that the court found in our favour in five out of the seven cases. The court also agreed with our view that discretionary housing payments are generally an appropriate and lawful way to provide assistance to those who need extra help.

"In the two specific cases where the court did not find in our favour, we will take steps to ensure we comply with the judgment in due course."