J.D. and A. v. the United Kingdom 2020

Vulnerable victims of domestic violence gain exemption from “bedroom tax”

The constant worry about whether we would be made to leave our home... has been truly awful . . . I am so relieved to know that hopefully my battle is nearly over.

A., quoted on the BBC


A woman at severe risk of domestic violence faced eviction from her specially-adapted home because cuts to housing benefits meant she could no longer afford the rent.

A.’s house had been made secure under a “Sanctuary Scheme” to help protect victims of abuse. The house was equipped with a safe room where A. and her son could hide if they were attacked by her dangerous ex-partner.

In 2012, the government changed the level of housing benefit given to people on low incomes, reducing payments for those who had more bedrooms than they strictly needed. Critics of the policy called it the “bedroom tax”.

A.’s benefits were reduced because she had a spare room. She was temporarily able to pay her rent, by applying for special help, but was briefly threatened with eviction in 2015 after her local authority mistakenly refused her application.

A. thought she was being treated unfairly. She took legal action against the government, and her case ended up at the UK’s top court.

The case was joined with other cases brought by people facing similar difficulties because of the “bedroom tax” – including J.D., a mother who lived in a house that was specially designed for her severely disabled daughter.

The UK’s top court dismissed their claims.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the United Kingdom had discriminated against A. based on her gender, as she was the victim of domestic violence – which overwhelmingly affects women.

In the court’s view, the UK government had not convincingly explained why encouraging people with ‘extra’ bedrooms to move to smaller accommodation – which was the aim of the housing benefit changes – should outweigh the purpose of the Sanctuary Scheme, which was to help domestic violence victims stay safely in their homes rather than being forced out by threats.

The special help available to people like A. was not enough to compensate for this situation.

However, the court did not find that J.D. had been discriminated against based on her daughter’s disability. In J.D.’s case, special financial help was available, and she could move to smaller, more appropriate accommodation.


Following the European court’s judgment, the UK changed the law in October 2021 to clearly exempt victims of severe domestic violence who are a part of the special Sanctuary Scheme from cuts to housing benefits.


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