R (on the application of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2013] EWHC 233 (Admin)

Case No: CO/5916/2012

Date

15 February 2013

Link to judgment

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/233.html

Discrimination grounds

Age, disability and race.

Summary of case

The claim concerned the Secretary of State’s decision to put an overall cap on the amount of housing benefit that could be paid to claimants at the level of general inflation, even if inflation in the rental sector was higher. The claimant, a charity concerned with the relief of poverty, considered that these changes would particularly disadvantage people with disabilities, children of school age as well as claimants from ethnic minorities whose families tend to be larger. They contended that the Secretary of State had not taken this into account, had not considered whether he could remove or minimize these disadvantages and consequently had not complied with his obligations under the public sector equality duties.

Outcome

The Court considered that although the equality impact assessment was ‘unimpressive’ it was adequate to meet the Secretary of State’s duties under the Equality Act 2010, section 149. Mr Justice Underhill added:

It is not of course strictly necessary for the purpose of section 149 that decision-makers should produce any kind of formal document. The value, however, of doing so is twofold: it helps to ensure that the necessary regard is indeed paid to the specified issues, and it provides evidence that that has occurred in the event of a subsequent challenge. From both points of view it is desirable that the document demonstrates real thought about the impact of the measure in question. A formulaic or tick-box approach is dangerous, and those performing EIAs [equality impact assessments] would be well-advised to spell out in concrete terms and ordinary language the contemplated consequences of the measure. If the EIA in the present case had said something to the effect that ‘if the level of rents increases above the level of benefit, there is a risk that people may have to leave their homes and move to cheaper properties, which may be some distance away’, and had then addressed the question whether that risk could be quantified (as was to some extent done in the IA [impact assessment]) before considering its equality implications, it would have been less vulnerable to the criticisms advanced by Ms Laing.