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Law firm call on the Government to re-consider decision not to halt Universal Credit

Lawyers acting on behalf of people affected by welfare reforms, have called the Universal Credit system “inhumane”

Posted on 02 October 2017

Lawyers acting for benefit claimants affected by the Universal Credit system have revealed one of their clients, with a terminal illness, has seen a reduction in his benefits of £161 per month and another has been deprived of certain benefits having been automatically put onto the scheme in error

Today David Gauke, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told the Conservative Party Conference that the roll out of the Universal Credit system next month will not be halted despite concerns over the way in which it will affect claimants.

The Universal Credit Scheme, introduced by Ian Duncan Smith in 2013, was claimed to be a way to streamline and simplify the existing structure of social welfare payments.

Lawyers have revealed they are acting for a 52 year old man suffering from a terminal illness and who relies on his benefit payments for not only his food and housing but also his trips to hospital and receiving the care he needs for his condition.

As a new recipient of Universal Credit, the man should have been due to receive a transitional protection by way of a ‘top up’ of any loss from the transfer to Universal Credit from his previous disability benefits. However, this is not due to start until approximately July 2019 although an exact date has not yet been confirmed.

If an individual is transferred before July 2019 they will not receive any ‘top up’ and will have to suffer a reduction in their overall benefit award, creating what lawyers have called ‘a calendar lottery’.

This reduction to an individual’s benefit award will particularly affect people with disabilities, which in part results because of the loss to the Severe Disability Premium awarded to people who receive a qualifying benefit, it is intended to help with the cost of a disability.

Leigh Day have also acted on behalf of an individual who was transferred onto Universal Credit from Employment & Support Allowance and Housing Benefit after he moved to another home within the same London borough.

He was automatically transferred to Universal Credit, which disentitled him from claiming Employment & Support Allowance and Housing Benefit resulting in a significant reduction to his benefit entitlement.

Lawyers from the human rights team at Leigh Day discovered that he was not actually required to transfer to Universal Credit and benefits advisers had not properly understood and/or engaged with the regulations.

The regulations state that a change of address within a full-service Universal Credit area can be dealt with by simply recording a change of circumstances; it does not require the recipient to make a new claim for Universal Credit.

The man was informed that he was required to claim Universal Credit before he would be able to move to his new tenancy, which was due to start in three days’ time.

Leigh Day threatened legal action against the decision, following the threat of a judicial review the Department of Work and Pensions agreed to treat the Universal Credit claim as never having been made, with an additional commitment that they will reinstate his Employment & Support Allowance claim.

After further delay, the local authority also agreed to reinstate his Housing Benefit claim; no apology has been provided.

Lucy Cadd a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:

“The practicalities of condensing six existing, vastly diverse types of benefits into a single monthly payment has resulted in a number of predictable issues including delays to payments, causing rent arrears in the worst cases, but critically, very real and often very significant reductions to the monthly benefit award that many individuals receive.

“Lord Freud, the former welfare reform minister and architect of Universal Credit, declared that the Universal Credit system would free people who were ‘trapped by a byzantine benefits system’, he couldn’t be further from the truth. Universal Credit is further destabilising the lives of those most in need of welfare support and trapping them in the cycle of poverty.”