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Landmark legal challenge to Universal Credit

Law firm Leigh Day has been given permission to take the first judicial review in the High Court over the controversial decision by the Government to implement Universal Credit

Posted on 04 February 2018

Law firm Leigh Day has been given permission to take the first judicial review in the High Court over the controversial decision by the Government to implement Universal Credit, a single benefit which replaces a range of existing means-tested welfare benefits.

Following a successful application for permission, the judge ordered the full judicial review to be expedited and to take place at the High Court between May and July at a date yet to be confirmed.

It is being taken on behalf of a 52-year-old terminally ill man, who is suffering from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Castleman's Disease, over the decision by the Government to remove disability benefits from people with severe disabilities leaving them in financial difficulties.

The man whose identity is protected, and is referred to as TP, is a Cambridge graduate who had worked in the City and around the World within the financial sector.

He became terminally ill in 2016 and was in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer.

However, following the recent introduction by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of Universal Credit, both EDP and SDP have been removed when a person makes a claim for Universal Credit with no replacement provision put in place.

According to Leigh Day, the removal of these two benefits has seen their client TP lose £178 each month.

In the application to the High Court lawyers argued on behalf of TP that the decision by the Government to remove SDP and EDP, and make no provision for a replacement, undermines the government's stated policy intention on the introduction of Universal Credit which was to focus additional support on the severely disabled.

An inconsistency which was noted both by both the Work & Pensions Select Committee[1] and by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee[2].

According to Tessa Gregory from Leigh Day, who represents TP, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has made clear and repeated commitments to protect existing benefit levels with "top up payments" for claimants migrating to Universal Credit so that: "no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to Universal Credit where circumstances remain the same."

A particular target of these payments was said to be severely disabled people in receipt of the SDP.

However, Mr Gauke has failed to introduce any such "top up" provision to assist the many thousands of severely disabled people who will now lose SDP and EDP through the current 'roll out' of Universal Credit across the country.

No top up payments are planned until July 2019 at the earliest when "managed migration" begins.

TP was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Castleman's disease in early November 2016. He began to receive the SDP and EDP, being a severely disabled person living alone without a carer. Following his diagnosis in November, his doctors recommended that he move back to London to receive specialist treatment.

He moved back to a Universal Credit full-service area, and saw a reduction in his benefits of £178 per month compared to his previous entitlement.

This has had a major impact on him at a time of extreme ill-health and stress. As he explained on his Universal Credit journal "I completely lost my SDP which is greatly needed struggling at home by myself disabled and sick."

Tessa Gregory, who is a partner in the human rights team at Leigh Day said: "We believe that by taking away these essential benefits from some of the most vulnerable people in society, the government has acted unlawfully.

"For my client who suffers from a terminal illness and is undergoing gruelling chemotherapy the additional benefits are quite literally a lifeline. At a time like this he should be focussing on his health not worrying about his benefits being axed by the DWP. We believe the safety net, which any one of us might need to rely on, is being unlawfully eroded by the way Universal Credit is being introduced"

[1] Work & Pensions Select Committee, HC 576 2012-13, para 115;
[2] 24th report of the HL Secondary legislation scrutiny committee HL 107 2012-13 para 35.