Senior judges from an Upper Tribunal have ruled that Theresa May’s government has been acting illegally. And once again, those affected by the ruling are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. The judgment means that the government has likely been screwing over thousands of disabled people who will now potentially be affected by the ruling.
The case was brought by two people who failed to appeal the decision to stop their Employment and Support Allowance in time. Current Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rules state that the first stage of appealing a decision – a mandatory reconsideration – needs to be lodged within a month.
These claimants didn’t make the deadline because [pdf] of their “extenuating circumstances”; both have mental health issues along with other problems. But the DWP initially refused to hear their appeals or allow them to present their arguments to a tribunal. So with the help of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), they took the case further.
Punishing vulnerable people
The problem with strict time limits for people with health conditions should be obvious. They may have issues that do not always allow them to appeal quickly. And this is something the Upper Tribunal judges thought should be “obvious”:
The reality is that many claimants will be vulnerable for reasons including issues relating to their mental health or learning disabilities. It is obvious that there is a high risk that many of them with good claims on the merits will miss time limits.
The judges expressed ‘concern’ about the present situation where:
a claimant sends the secretary of state a request for a mandatory reconsideration to which the secretary of state responds by stating that the application is late and does not meet the criteria for extending time.
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And they ruled that:
We have concluded that as a matter of statutory interpretation a claimant in such circumstances has a statutory right of appeal to the first-tier tribunal.
The judges also highlighted the role that austerity plays in ‘exacerbating’ the risk of missing deadlines. They stated:
This risk has been exacerbated over recent years by changes in the scope of legal aid and local authority and advice sector provision, and hence the reduction in the numbers of welfare rights officers and others who are readily available to assist claimants with their benefits claims and appeals.
In other words, the government is punishing some of the most vulnerable people in society twice. Firstly, their health means they are not able to comply with the strict rules for benefits. And secondly, they can’t get the help they need to challenge the decisions because so many services have been cut.
Since 2010, the Conservative government has implemented an agenda of welfare changes and austerity cuts. These cuts have hit the poorest and most vulnerable people in society the hardest. For example, in June 2017, the High Court ruled that the housing benefit cap could cause some families “real misery” with “no good purpose”.
This tribunal case is yet another example of how badly the Tories treat vulnerable people. And this judgment is yet another indictment of the legacy of this government. The general election result showed that many people are fed up with the cruel austerity policies of the Tories. It’s essential that all of us keep up the pressure. And we all need to push for a political system that doesn’t punish those people who are most in need of help.
– Support Disabled People Against the Cuts
Featured image via screengrab
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