The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is in court for a second time in six months over Universal Credit. But that’s not all – as this is the sixth court case against it in a year.
The DWP: in the dock
As legal firm Leigh Day reported, four claimants have brought a judicial review against the DWP. A judge is hearing the case in the High Court on 27 and 28 November. It centres around Universal Credit, the flagship benefit which combines six means-tested payments. The claimants are all in a similar position – they work part time and Universal Credit tops up their earnings. Leigh Day is representing one claimant and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is representing the other three.
The review is about the “irrational” and “discriminatory” way Universal Credit is treating the claimants. They claim this because the DWP assessment periods for Universal Credit, where it checks working claimants’ earnings, are fixed. They run from the last day of each month. But the four claimants’ employers don’t always pay their wages on the last day; meaning in the eyes of the DWP, some months the claimants get double the wages, other months nothing at all.
This means that sometimes the DWP does not pay the claimants any benefit, even though they have not actually earned any more from their jobs.
As Leigh Day said of the claimant it represents, Danielle:
Claimants are unable to change their assessment period dates.
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This has resulted in her receiving fluctuating… payments throughout the year making it very hard to budget from one month to the next. It has also caused her to be around £500 worse off annually due to the fact that she is entitled to ‘work allowance’ as a parent. The work allowance is a disregard of £198 per month of a parent’s monthly earnings so in months where she is treated as having no earned income, she loses the whole benefit of the work allowance. In months where she is treated as having double income, she does not receive any extra work allowance.
As well as arguing that the UC payment system is irrational, and that the issues with varying pay dates could have been easily solved if properly considered, Danielle will also argue that the system is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects single parents, who are mainly female.
This is the second time the DWP has been in court over Universal Credit in six months.
As The Canary previously reported, it had to pay out compensation to two claimants after a judge ruled that Universal Credit had discriminated against them. This was because they were severely disabled, but the DWP had left them financially worse off when they moved onto Universal Credit. Before the court case, the DWP had already changed the rules to try and stop claimants being worse off. But it is still challenging the judges’ decision, anyway.
The DWP says…
The DWP told The Canary that it “cannot comment” on an ongoing legal case.
But Danielle, a lone mother and part-time dinner lady, was scathing:
I have never been this financially unstable before, to the point of being unable to afford my rent and having to go into my overdraft when buying food. It is getting me into a vicious cycle of debt. Universal Credit is supposed to be simpler and fairer, but my experience of it is the opposite. I’m doing my best working part-time to make ends meet so that I can look after my daughter. I thought the government was supposed to help and support people like me trying to get back to work but I have found it to be the opposite.
This is now at least the sixth time the DWP has been involved in court action in less than a year. It comes just days after the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston said Universal Credit was “falling into Universal Discredit”. But more than that, it is damning for the DWP that so many claimants are taking it to court. Because the department is clearly not listening to their concerns. And it seems to be leaving them with no other options but to use the law against it.
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