The DWP is now fighting the High Court over Universal Credit

Royal Courts of Justice and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

This article was updated at 12:50pm on Friday 21 February to reflect an error. It previously stated that the DWP was “appealing” a third case. This was incorrect. The DWP is currently fighting a third case, and claimants are asking it to concede before it gets to court. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is fighting a High Court case, based on a judgement from 2019 over Universal Credit. And it’s doing so despite losing two previous rulings about the same case. The solicitor acting on behalf of the disabled people involved said the DWP should just “admit defeat”. But a minister just revealed the department has already spent over £200,000 fighting these cases.

The DWP: benefit chaos

As The Canary originally reported in 2017, Enhanced Disability Premiums (EDP) and Severe Disability Premiums (SDP) are benefits that give disabled people with high support needs additional money. But under Universal Credit, they don’t exist. Instead, claimants get different allowances depending on their circumstances.

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The DWP put in place ‘transitional protections‘. In theory, this ensures that “some” existing claimants do not get less when they ‘migrate’ from their current awards, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), onto Universal Credit. It works by the DWP ‘topping up‘ people’s payments. But there were several problems with this. For example, before the DWP made changes to it in 2018:

  • No one was going to have protection until the DWP began rolling Universal Credit out fully.
  • It only applied to existing claimants who have had no change of circumstance.

None of this applies to new claimants. Nor does it apply to people who have a change of circumstance. It was the latter that happened to claimants known as TP and AR. So they took the DWP to court.

‘Discriminatory’ and “unlawful”

The claimants’ solicitors Leigh Day argued that the DWP had acted unlawfully by not making up a loss of nearly £180 a month for TP specifically when he changed over from his old benefits to Universal Credit.

And the judge partially agreed. They ruled that the arrangements for the delivery of Universal Credit for severely disabled people are ‘discriminatory’ and “unlawful” on ground three of Leigh Day’s case – i.e. 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.

Tinkering around the edges

The DWP had already changed its policy around Universal Credit (with ‘transitional protections’). 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.

It initially ‘topped up‘ people affected by £80. But TP and AR said this still didn’t make up for the £180 they’d lost. So they took the DWP to court again. And again, the court ruled in the claimants’ favour. But the DWP still didn’t make the payments up to £180. It just increased them from £80 to £120.

“Shocking”

Meanwhile, the DWP was appealing both the 2018 and 2019 High Court decisions. Then, on 29 January this year, the court of appeal threw two of the DWP’s appeals out. AR said of the judgement:

We hope that the Court of Appeal ruling will finally bring an end to our fight for severely disabled people not to be disadvantaged by Universal Credit. It is still so shocking to us that we have had to fight so long and so hard just to get the government to see that their policy is unfair.

But the DWP is still subject to a third claim. As Leigh Day said in a press release:

The issue in this third claim is whether £120 a month in transitional payments constitutes unlawful discrimination because those people who moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 are still around £60 a month worse off. On 16 January 2019 the SDP Gateway came into force which prevents any further severely disabled benefits claimants from being forced to move onto Universal Credit until they are subject to a managed migration process which maintains their level of benefits.

Throwing money away

The Canary asked the DWP for comment. It had not responded at the time of publication.

The DWP has also just admitted how much it has spent on such court cases so far. DWP minister of state Justin Tomlinson said in a written statement on Tuesday 18 February:

As at 13 February 2020, the Department has spent £215,846.89 on legal costs defending and appealing the cases in relation to people formerly in receipt of Severe Disability premium that have transferred to Universal Credit.

Yet despite repeated defeats, the cost to the public purse, and the stress on the claimants, the DWP is refusing to concede this third case before it gets to court.

“Admit defeat”

Leigh Day solicitor Tessa Gregory said in a press release for The Canary:

The government has now been defeated four times in relation to its treatment of severely disabled people who have moved onto Universal Credit. Our clients believe that now is the time for government to stop wasting money on legal fees, admit defeat, concede this outstanding claim and ensure that all those who have been short-changed are provided with their previous level of benefits.

In order to cut costs, the government has taken money away from some of society’s most vulnerable individuals who desperately need this additional financial support to manage their daily lives.

Disabled people: when court is the only option

It’s unclear if the DWP will concede the case before it gets to court. Leigh Day, TP, and AR are effectively giving it a chance to back down. They want it to admit defeat and raise the compensation top-ups to £180. But given the controversy over Universal Credit, it’s unlikely the DWP will concede the case.

Moreover, though, this situation sums up the condition of the so-called ‘welfare state’. The fact that the government department tasked with supporting chronically ill, disabled, and sick people seems hell-bent on fighting them at every turn is damning enough. But when it’s also hell-bent on fighting the highest courts in the land, it’s perhaps broken beyond repair.

Featured image via StevovoB – pixabay and Wikimedia 

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