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Mother launches legal case after benefit cap wipes out Covid-19 help measures

A mother of four young children has launched a legal case against the Government after the benefit cap eliminated an increase in Universal Credit (UC) intended to help families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Posted on 17 May 2020

While the Chancellor increased UC payments by about £90 a month as part of the emergency Coronavirus Act 2020, the single mother, who does not wish to be named, in fact saw her family’s monthly Universal Credit payment of £1,397.92 cut to £1,275.
Now, represented by Carolin Ott and Tessa Gregory of Leigh Day solicitors, the mother has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, with a pre-action protocol letter, making her case for judicial review.
The perverse change occurred because the benefit cap which prevents families outside of London receiving more than £20,000 a year in welfare payments is still being stringently applied. The Covid-19 increase put the mother’s combined Universal Credit and Child Benefit payments above £20,000.
Further, the mother, who lives in a small two-bedroom house with her children aged 11, six, three and one, has  been hit by the Department of Work and Pensions decision not to suspend advance payment deductions and continue to claw back an advance payment she received in 2019. The Covid-19 UC increase meant her monthly advance payment deduction has been increased accordingly. As a result of the effect of the benefit cap and the advance payment deduction, the claimant’s Universal Credit monthly payment has been reduced by £122.96 even though it should have increased due to the Covid-19 emergency help provided.
Leigh Day makes the case on behalf of the claimant that the application of the benefit cap and the decision to continue to apply advanced payment deductions are irrational and perverse and violate the claimant’s rights under article 14 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) read with article 1 of Protocol 1 ECHR and/or article 8 ECHR.
The case also argues that as a single mother with children, the claimant has suffered unjustified indirect discrimination in that she has been treated the same as other people whose situation is different from hers.

The mother said: 

“The changes to benefits in the pandemic have left me worse off when in fact they were supposed to help me during this difficult time, how can that be right?

“The advance payment deductions are being made because I fell victim to fraud when someone stole my identity and claimed UC in my name last year. The loan that was applied for in my name is being treated as an advance payment and I am having to pay it back even though I never requested it and never saw any of the money. Now my children and I are suffering.

“Of course I have had to face extra costs because my 11-year-old and six-year-old aren’t in school. I am struggling to home-school them because of my reduced income. I just want to receive the additional help other Universal Credit claimants are being given.”

Leigh Day solicitor Carolin Ott said:
 “The increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance was intended to help the most vulnerable in society meet the extra costs they would face because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, our client has been left worse off because the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has applied the benefit cap and advance payment deductions.
“Our client argues this is unlawful as it is irrational and discriminatory. The benefit cap is a measure intended to encourage benefit claimants into work but it is absurd for it to deprive individuals of much needed support during a time when it is entirely unrealistic for them to enter into employment.”
Leigh Day has asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to reply by Wednesday, 20 May, explaining the decision to retain the benefit cap and advance payment deductions and to confirm that she will:

  • Urgently review the application of the benefits cap where it applies as result of the increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance in the 2020 regulations;
  • Pending that review, suspend the application of the benefit cap and make arrangements for payments to those affected to make up the shortfall in their April Universal Credit payments;
  • Urgently review the application of discretionary advance payment deductions in the case of those affected by the benefit cap.