Surinder Lall won his bedroom tax appeal against Westminster council, saying his spare room was used to store vital equipment to aid him in his life and work, as he is blind. Photograph: ITV News
A housing association tenant in central London has won an appeal against the imposition of the bedroom tax by Conservative-run Westminster city council, in what is thought to be the first such victory in England.
Surinder Lall, who is blind, argued successfully to a tribunal that a room in his flat classified as a second bedroom had never been used as one and had always been where equipment helping him to lead a normal life was kept.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: "The term 'bedroom' is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined."
The council, which had decided in March to cut what the government calls the spare room subsidy element of Lall's housing benefit, did not attend the hearing and will not appeal, although the Department for Work and Pensions has said it may do so.
Around 80,000 London households are affected by the bedroom tax, of which more than 50,000 comprise or include disabled people. Lall, who qualified as a barrister in 1988 and lost what remained of his sight in the same year, would have had his housing benefit cut by £12 a week.
Westminster council said it had previously invited him to apply for a discretionary payment from a £190m fund made available by the government for disabled and other vulnerable tenants in order to make up the shortfall, but he was turned down.
Lall said his case clearly demonstrated that an additional room used for equipment required by a disabled person fell outside the scope of the regulations and should stop local housing departments simply using the term bedroom in tenancy agreements to cut benefits.
Westminster stressed it had based its decision to cut his benefit on the information supplied by his landlord, which had classified the equipment room as a bedroom until shortly before the tribunal hearing.
Coral Williams, a solicitor who assisted Lall with his case, said local authorities and social housing tenants should look closely at the decision.
It follows recent successful appeals against the bedroom tax in Scotland, where arguments about the use of rooms by disabled people have been similarly deployed. Questions have also been raised about the extent to which councils should rely on housing association data when imposing the government's penalty for supposed under-occupation.
Permission was granted on Wednesday for lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the bedroom tax to take their fight to the court of appeal, after losing a high court challenge in July.