The DWP is in court facing a huge challenge to Universal Credit

The Royal Courts of Justice and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again in court. This time, yet more claimants are challenging it over Universal Credit. But this case is different. Because the claimants say that previous changes the DWP made to the benefit after another court case are effectively not fit for purpose.

The DWP: in the dock

The charity Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is acting for three Universal Credit claimants. The DWP’s flagship welfare payment, which combines six old means-tested benefits, has been dogged by controversy. From a damning National Audit Office report to its links with increased foodbank use and rent arrears, the benefit has been in chaos. Now, a judge will be ruling on two separate complaints over the benefit. But both cases, being heard on 23 and 24 January, are on the same grounds.

Three legal breaches?

CPAG says that the DWP has acted unlawfully in respect of:

The policy preventing an individual returning to legacy benefits or, alternatively, the lack of transitional protection in situations where an individual has their legacy benefits wrongly terminated and goes on to claim universal credit

Both cases relate to this. CPAG says that specifically this DWP policy is:

  • Irrational. This is because neither claimant wanted to move from old benefits to Universal Credit.
  • Discriminatory. This is because incorrect decisions about the right to disability benefits are more common under Universal Credit. Plus, disabled people are “more likely to be cash losers” on it.
  • A breach of its public sector equality duty. This is because the DWP didn’t do an impact assessment for circumstances like the two claimants’ when it brought in Universal Credit.
TD and AD

The first claimants are TD and AD, a mother and daughter. AD lives with severe sickle cell anaemia and epilepsy. The DWP was paying her Disability Living Allowance (DLA). It was giving TD Income Support and Carer’s Allowance. As Disability News Service (DNS) reported:

TD gave up her job to become a full-time carer but had her income support terminated when her child’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was about to end and before it could be renewed. She was also told by the jobcentre to claim Universal Credit, which she did.

But this left TD and AD around £140 a month worse off. The DWP said in the end it had made a mistake. It reinstated the DLA but only paid arrears for a certain period. So, CPAG is claiming on the grounds that TD and AD were left £140 a month worse off under Universal Credit for around 18 months.

Ms Reynolds

The other claimant is Ms Reynolds. It’s her case that challenges a previous change by the DWP after another court case. But it also throws into question work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd’s more recent changes to Universal Credit legislation.

Reynolds lives with rheumatoid arthritis and spondylitis and needs crutches to move around. The DWP used to give her Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Severe Disability Premium (SDP), and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But then it decided she no longer qualified for PIP, even thought her health had got worse. After that, it stopped her ESA after she missed a Work Capability Assessment. This left Reynolds with no choice but to claim Universal Credit. It left her £183.48 a month worse off.

The DWP says…

A DWP spokesperson said:

We are unable to comment on an ongoing legal case.

Universal Credit is a force for good and over 1.6 million are receiving the benefit successfully.

Underwhelming changes

Last year, the DWP put in place transitional protections for SDP claimants. It was to make sure people who previously got the benefit were no worse off under Universal Credit. This is because the SDP doesn’t exist under it. But, as CPAG noted, this was only for people who the DWP said had limited capability for work. It does not cover people like Reynolds who the DWP says have limited capability for work-related activity.

Moreover, Reynolds’ case shows a flaw in Rudd’s latest changes to Universal Credit. As The Canary previously reported, she is putting in place legislation so no one currently claiming SDP will move onto Universal Credit until managed migration starts. This is where the DWP will transfer claimants on old benefits over to the new one. DWP minister Alok Sharma announced this on 11 January. Rudd’s change will stop SDP claimants going onto Universal Credit even with a change of circumstance, like Reynolds had. But this is too late for her.

Both cases show flaws in the DWP’s systems. But it’s Reynolds’ case which could have the most implications. If the judge agrees the DWP acted unlawfully, it could set several precedents.

Setting precedents?

Firstly, the DWP may have underpaid a whole group of SDP claimants who it said have limited capability for work-related activity when it introduced transitional protections for people with just limited capability for work.

Secondly, the DWP may have to give back pay to, or compensate, claimants who had to move from SDP to Universal Credit before Rudd’s new legislation to stop people moving comes into force.

Either way, the case represents the chaos Universal Credit is in. Moreover, it’s the third court case over the benefit since July 2018. The judge is not expected to rule on this case yet. But this and the other cases show not only the appalling state of Universal Credit, but the fact that claimants often feel they have no routes left to challenge it – apart from the courts.

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

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