Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is seeking leave to appeal direct to the Court of Appeal on behalf of two disabled households who were left worse off after they were forced to move to universal credit (UC) because their existing benefits were wrongly stopped by the DWP.
The move follows a High Court decision today which rejected a claim of unlawful discrimination brought by the two households and refused permission to appeal.
The Government has consistently given assurances that no claimant will be worse off when they move to UC where there has been no change of circumstances.
Both households were forced to claim UC because their existing benefits were removed incorrectly by the DWP and were entitled to significantly less on UC than on their previous benefits, because some disability-related payments are lower or non-existent in UC.
Yet DWP policy also prevented the claimants from returning to their previous benefits (under the so-called ‘lobster-pot principle’- once in, there’s no way out) even after the DWP decision to end their entitlement to their existing benefits was found to be incorrect.
Neither household had any change in circumstances which would oblige them to claim UC – other than the DWP’s erroneous termination of their existing benefits.
Nor were they entitled to the cash top-ups ( ‘transitional protection’ against income losses) which will be available to claimants of existing benefits whose circumstance do not change and who from 2020 will be moved to UC under a mass, managed-migration process.
One of the claimants, the mother of a severely disabled child, was for a period left almost £140 per month worse off on UC than her entitlement on her previous benefits because payments for some disabled children are lower on UC than on tax credits.
The other claimant is more than £180 worse off per month on UC than she would have been on employment support allowance (ESA) because she lost the severe disability premium which is not available in UC.
Commenting on today’s High Court judgement, Child Poverty Action Group’s Head of Strategic Litigation Carla Clarke said: “The High Court has found that the Secretary of State considered the impact of universal credit policy on claimants in the circumstances of our clients.
“But to be lawful and not to amount to discrimination, the difference in treatment of some groups of people, such as our clients, must not simply be considered but must also be justified.
“In our view, such justification has not been made out. As the judge herself said: “The SSWP’s [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions] case is that she and Ministers have specifically considered the apparently arbitrary disadvantage visited on people like these claimants – caring alone for a child with severe disabilities in the case of TD and living alone with severe disabilities in the case of PR – resulting from an error in their benefits made by her department.”
“It is difficult to see how a disadvantage which is arbitrary can be justified.”
“Incorrect decisions by the DWP forced our clients to claim universal credit. If it weren’t for those incorrect decisions, they would have remained on their original benefits.
“They lost income as a result because their awards under UC were less and they were caught in a lobster-pot effect – once on universal credit, there was no way back to their previous benefits.
“Nor did they have access to top-up payments to buffer their cash-losses, despite the fact that these will be available to people moving to universal credit in future as part of the mass, managed migration of claimants.
“At the centre of this case there is a single mother of a disabled child and a woman who has mobility difficulties.
“We will ask the Court of Appeal to consider how the decision to prevent them returning to their previous benefits while at the same time not affording them transitional protection can be justified when the situation has arisen not from any change of their circumstances but from the DWP’s errors.
“They, and many others like them, have seen large drops in their income and are no less worthy of protection than other groups who will move to universal credit in the future with transitional protection as a buffer against such drops in income.
“This ‘arbitrary disadvantage’ is an injustice affecting potentially tens of thousands of benefit claimants who have only claimed universal credit because of incorrect decisions by the DWP, principally among them adults and children who stand to lose out on financial help with the extra costs of disability.”
Disclaimer: This is an official press release from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and has been published here with permission. Images added by Welfare Weekly.