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Disabled households worse off on Universal Credit breakthrough test case win

13 May 2020

A single mother with a disabled daughter and a woman with mobility difficulties who were left worse off after they were forced to move to universal credit (UC) after their existing benefits were wrongly stopped have won a breakthrough case in the Court of Appeal.

The judgment means that, depending on what remedy the DWP chooses, the two households – and potentially thousands like them subject to wrongful decisions by the DWP – will be able to return to their previous benefits or have their UC awards topped up to the level of their previous benefits.

The test case was brought by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). It challenged the lack of protection against cash losses for claimants who are on UC only because of an incorrect decision by the DWP ending their earlier benefits.

This was then compounded by such claimants being unable to return to their previous ('legacy') benefits after successfully challenging the incorrect decision - even if they are financially worse off on UC.

Other than the DWP error ending their previous benefits, neither household had any change in circumstances which would have obliged them to claim UC.

'TD', the mother of the disabled child, was for a period almost £140 per month worse off on UC than her entitlement on her previous benefits because payments for some disabled children are lower in UC than in tax credits.

For Ms Reynolds who has mobility difficulties, the difference between her previous employment and support allowance (ESA) award and her UC award is around £180 per month. 

The court decided there was no justification for treating the two households differently from other claimants who remain on 'legacy' benefits and who will in the future move to UC through managed migration and will have transitional protection against income drops.

The Court also ruled that this difference in treatment of the two households, unfairly discriminated against them, breaching their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights:

Welcoming the Court’s judgment, CPAG’s solicitor Carla Clarke said:

 “Claimants pushed onto UC when the DWP wrongly stops their old benefits should not have to tolerate an income drop that causes them real hardship simply because the DWP considers it is too costly or too complex to rectify its own mistake.

Not least among those who will benefit from the judgment are children and adults who otherwise stood to lose out on crucial help with the extra costs of disability.

The Secretary of State must act swiftly to implement the judgment so that any claimant who claims UC following an incorrect decision to end their previous benefits is protected against financial losses."

Ken Butler Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“This important judgment shows that human rights legislation can be a vital last line of defence for disabled people.

The Government should stop spending time, money and resources seeking to defend UC outcomes that harshly disadvantage legacy benefit claimants.

Especially when nearly half of all those living in poverty live in a household where someone is disabled.

Instead, it should immediately put in place a system of transitional protection for all those moving from legacy benefits to UC.”

For more information see Households worse off on universal credit win Court of Appeal test case available from cpag.org.uk.

The Court of Appeal’s full judgment is available from www.bailii.org.

See also DWP loses severe disability premium case available from this website.