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Source : 27/02/2004 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Members of a Northamptonshire-based religious group have taken their battle for thousands of pounds worth of housing benefit to the Court of Appeal in London.

Four members of the Jesus Army are at the centre of a human rights test case after they were refused benefit because they live in communal houses in Nether Heyford, Pattisall and Bugbrooke.

Ase Johannessen, John Campbell, Jeffery Hayes and Tina Bradby were refused benefit by social security commissioner Edward Jacobs in May last year.

He said their tenancy agreements with the church were not made on a commercial basis so the group was not entitled to benefit.

In court the group's lawyer, James Goudie QC, said they had simply fallen foul of changes in housing benefits regulations designed to catch people who abused the system by entering into bogus tenancy agreements.

He asked Lord Justice Gibson, Sir William Aldous and Lord Justice Jacob to overturn the commissioners' decision on the basis that it amounted to religious discrimination.

He said the decision meant the group was faced with having to: 'abandon their religious beliefs or forgo their entitlement to housing benefit'.

Mr Gibson added that communal living was a necessary part of the faith of the Jesus Army members.

The court also heard that, as well as communal living, group members abandoned their personal possessions, gave all their capital to the church and put any other money into a common purse.

But the department of Work and Pensions and South Northamptonshire Council, which initially refused housing benefit for the group, deny communal living is a necessary part of the group's religious faith.

The three appeal judges will make a decision on the groups' challenge to the commissioner's decision at a later date.

The Jesus Army is currently working to convert the former Cannon Cinema in Abington Square, Northampton, into a worship centre.

The 5 million project is set to be completed in July or August this year.