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140111Stephanie-Bottrill

It’s what we all feared, as soon as we found out that people who have been in the same social housing since before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax:

Stephanie Bottrill, the grandmother who committed suicide because she could not afford to pay the Bedroom Tax, was one of those who should never have been asked to pay.

She took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6 in May last year, just one month after the Bedroom Tax – sometimes called the State Under-Occupation Charge – had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take.

She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government.

She had lived in the same Solihull house for the previous 18 years (since 1995). Recent revelations by Joe Halewood at SPeye have shown that this meant she was exempt from paying the charge under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006.

The government has a duty of care in these matters. It may not impose charges on people who are exempt under legislation that is currently in force, nor may it demand that local authorities should do so. If a person dies as a result of such action, then the government is guilty of a very specific criminal offence.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.

It seems clear – from the suicide note at the very least – that this is an open-and-shut case.

Will we soon see Iain Duncan Smith – or better still, David Cameron – in court?

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