The DWP tried to hide its latest humiliation. A court just forced it to go public.

The DWP and the Royal Courts of Justice
Steve Topple

Update: This article was updated at 4.40pm on 1 August to include a statement from the DWP

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was just forced by a court to reveal the details of its latest humiliating legal defeat. The implications of this could affect thousands of claimants.

The DWP: an admission of guilt?

On Monday 30 July, the DWP said it was going to compensate two claimants who took it to court and partly won. The men, known as TP and AR, brought the case against the DWP after it left them financially worse off due to transferral onto Universal Credit. The judge in the case agreed. Now, as the claimants’ solicitors Leigh Day announced, the DWP will pay:

  • TP a lump sum of £3,277 for his losses when he moved onto Universal Credit; £3,240 for “non-pecuniary” losses (damages) and £173.50 a month until it fully restores his benefits.
  • AF will receive £2,108, £2,680, and £176 respectively as above.

As the Morning Star reported, the DWP’s lawyers tried to keep the compensation payouts a secret. But the judge, Mr Justice Lewis, said:

You are the government and we should know what you are doing and what public money you are spending… The government is trying to hide something. They lost and they do not want to admit they lost.

The case which left the DWP having to compensate the claimants was a complex one.

A complex case

The case centred on the loss of benefits for TP and AR when they moved onto Universal Credit. Because this new benefit replaces most previous ones, some disabled people with severe impairments could lose out on money. The case centres around the Severe Disability Premium, which is a payment for disabled people living with severe impairments towards additional costs they have. This premium doesn’t exist under Universal Credit.

Leigh Day argued that the DWP acted unlawfully by not making up a loss of £178 a month for TP when he changed over from his old benefits to Universal Credit.

Ruling on 14 June, the judge said the arrangements for the delivery of Universal Credit for severely disabled people amounted to “unlawful discrimination” on ground three of Leigh Day’s case. Ground three was that the:

implementation of universal credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for this vulnerable group as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR].

“Halt” Universal Credit

At the time of the case, the DWP had already changed its policy around Universal Credit to ensure disabled people with severe impairments were no worse off. Anyone who did previously lose out will have their benefits backdated. But this doesn’t cover people making new Universal Credit claims. And Leigh Day argued that the DWP should “compensate” people previously affected, and “halt” the rollout of Universal Credit, as it’s “not working”

Now, by agreeing to compensate them, the DWP has effectively admitted it unfairly discriminated against TP and AR. But it’s still going to appeal the judge’s ruling. A DWP spokesperson told The Canary:

The Government is appealing the decision of the judicial review, but in the interim we have agreed to make payments to the lead claimants.

So, what are the implications for other claimants?

Pay up

On 18 June, minister of state for the DWP Alok Sharma said the DWP estimates around 4,000 people were affected like TP and AR. Leigh Day has said:

We hope that the Secretary of State will now without delay compensate others in the same position and reconsider her decision to pursue an appeal against the original finding of discrimination.

It also urged the DWP to reconsider its current proposal to other claimants affected, which it said:

only compensate those in our clients’ position to a flat rate of £80 a month.

This plainly does not reflect the actual loss suffered by our clients and thousands like them and compounds the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected.

By effectively admitting its wrongdoing, it would seem reasonable for the DWP to pay other people in the same way it’s paid TP and AR. As the department has a track record of being completely unreasonable, however, it remains to be seen if it will.

Justice may have been done in part for TP and AR. But with the DWP insisting on appealing, and thousands in similar positions to the two men also out of pocket, this case is still far from over.

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– Support DPAC and Black Triangle, campaigning for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia and Dan Perry – Flickr

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