UK Government loses Universal Credit appeals against claimants with severe disabilities
The Court of Appeal has dismissed the UK Government’s appeals against two previous court judgments which found that the secretary of state for work and pensions had unlawfully discriminated against thousands of severely disabled people who moved onto Universal Credit.
The ruling upholds two successful High Court challenges brought by TP and AR, in which the courts found that individuals previously in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) are to be protected against a drop in their income when they move onto Universal Credit.
The first challenge brought by TP and AR was won in the High Court in June 2018. The men had been forced to move onto Universal Credit when they moved into a local authority area where the new benefit system had been rolled out.
Under Universal Credit they lost out on the SDP and EDP, leaving them suddenly around £180 a month worse off. The judge found that this was unlawful because those that moved to a different local authority area were being treated differently to those who moved within their local authority area.
As a result of the first challenge, the government attempted to rectify the situation by making regulations which stopped other severely disabled people from migrating onto Universal Credit and provided that those like TP and AR, (who had already moved onto Universal Credit), would receive retrospective and ongoing recompense. However, the government chose to recompense TP and AR and those like them at a rate of only £80 per month rather than £180 per month which is what they had actually lost.
TP and AR mounted their second legal challenge along with a third claimant SXC arguing that short-changing them was unlawful as they were being treated differently to those who remained on legacy benefits. The High Court found in their favour in May 2019.
The government, whilst appealing both judgments, increased the top-up payments but only provided recompense of £120 per month rather than the £180 lost. A third legal challenge regarding that decision is pending.
The Court of Appeal, in a judgment handed down this week, agreed with the lower courts that the government had unlawfully discriminated against this cohort of severely disabled claimants. The Court also found that the government had breached its duty of candour by failing to disclose during the first hearing that it had already made a policy decision to stop more severely disabled people from being moved onto Universal Credit and to provide transitional payments for those that already had.
AR said: “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.”
Tessa Gregory, from law firm Leigh Day, which represented the pair TP and AR, said the finding should be “a wake-up call” for the secretary of state for work and pensions.
Ms Gregory added: “The government states that Universal Credit is protecting the most vulnerable but that has not been the experience of our clients who faced a dramatic reduction in their monthly income when they moved onto the new benefits system and when that was found to be unlawful were offered a monthly top-up which didn’t even cover half of that loss.
“We hope that the government will waste no more time or resources fighting this legal case and will instead get on with what it should have been doing in the first place, protecting this acutely vulnerable cohort of claimants and overhauling Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose.”