The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing court action over Universal Credit. The legal challenge by claimants is the third such time the department will have been in the dock on this specific issue.
Four years of Universal Credit chaos
Enhanced Disability Premiums (EDP) and Severe Disability Premiums (SDP) are social security payments. The DWP gives them to disabled people with high support needs. But, if you have to start claiming Universal Credit, these allowances don’t exist. Instead, claimants get different payments based on their circumstances. For some people, this meant they lost money. As The Canary first reported in 2017, there could be claimants losing thousands of pounds a year. So, two disabled claimants have repeatedly taken the DWP to court over this.
As The Canary reported back in 2018, the initial case was brought by two claimants, known only as TP and AR. Law firm Leigh Day represented them. TP is terminally ill, living with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Castleman’s disease. In November 2016, the DWP started paying him EDP and SDP. This was because he lived alone with no support. On his doctors’ advice, he moved to London. Because he had a change of circumstance (his address), he had to make a new claim to the DWP which saw him moved on to Universal Credit. Leigh Day claims TP then lost around £180 a month.
The DWP had put in place so-called ‘transitional protections‘. It claimed these would protect claimants from losing money by topping up their payments. But these ‘protections’ don’t protect everyone. Not least, they don’t apply to claimants who’ve had a change of circumstance. Nor do they apply to new claimants. And they never covered the full £180.
The DWP in the dock
The implementing arrangements do at present give rise to unlawful discrimination contrary to article 14 ECHR… A declaration will be granted that there is unlawful discrimination.
The DWP tried to appeal the ruling twice and lost both times. So, it had to change its policy and made backdated payments to people affected. But it only added an extra £80 a month to Universal Credit and people affected. TP, AR, and Leigh Day challenged this in court and won again. The DWP was forced to increase the amount to £120. But this still doesn’t cover the full loss of social security for some claimants. So, TP, AR, and Leigh Day are taking the DWP back to court once again.
A judicial review
They’re bringing a judicial review against the department. It will look at whether the DWP’s decision to only increase some severely disabled people’s Universal Credit payments by £120 is lawful. The claimants argue it should be the full £180. This would mean that financially no-one loses out by moving on to Universal Credit. As Leigh Day said in 2020:
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.
The High Court will hear the case between 19-21 October 2021. But TP and AR’s action has also sparked a larger court case.
An ongoing group claim
Leigh Day is representing 275 severely disabled people who lost out in similar ways to TP and AR. As The Canary previously reported, it’s specifically for people who made a claim for Universal Credit before 16 January 2019 and were claiming EDP or SDP before that (16 January 2019 was when the DWP brought in new rules under the SDP Gateway). Leigh Day said of the group claim:
The claimants are asking the [DWP] for compensation equal to the amount of money they have lost following their transfer to universal credit, for their previous level of benefits to be restored and maintained until a lawful migration scheme is established, and for compensation for the stress they have been caused.
“Difficult to believe”
Leigh Day told The Canary that the group claim was ongoing but paused (‘stayed’) while TP and AR’s new cases is heard. AR said in a press release:
Yet again I am having to go to court and fight for what is fair. Over the last years I should have had much needed support in place to help me get through the challenges I face on a daily basis as a result of my disabilities, but instead I have had to put time and energy into fighting for that support. I hope this is the last time we have to fight the [DWP] for support that is so obviously needed.
Leigh Day solicitor Tessa Gregory said:
It is difficult to believe that our clients have been forced to bring a third set of legal proceedings against the government in order to ensure they and thousands of other severely disabled persons are not unlawfully discriminated against following their move on to Universal Credit. Those affected are some of the most vulnerable individuals in society and the Government should be ensuring they are fully supported, not seeking to again short change them, this time by around £60 per month.
If in October a judge agrees with TP, AR, and Leigh Day, then once more the DWP could be facing pay-outs to countless severely disabled people. So, this case is important and The Canary will continue to monitor the situation.
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