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Working mum wins national award for her legal challenge and campaigning on Universal Credit

Working mum Nichola Salvato has won a national award for her legal challenge to Universal Credit.

Posted on 13 May 2021

Nichola, aged 49, of Brighton has won the “Best Use of Law” category in the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation (SMK) National Campaigner Awards for her legal challenge and campaigning against the Universal Credit (UC) proof of payment rule for childcare.

Each year SMK celebrate campaigns and campaigners pushing for change. The best use of law category celebrates campaigns that have successfully used the law to drive change. Nichola was nominated alongside three other campaigns and campaigners.

Nichola launched her legal challenge in January 2020 after she had to cut her hours as a welfare advisor and resort to borrowing from a 'payday lender' because of the way childcare benefits are provided through UC.

On Friday 22 January 2021, the High Court ruled that the Department of Work and Pensions’ mechanism for assessing and paying the childcare costs element of Universal Credit was unlawful. The Proof of Payment rule required proof of payment of childcare costs from working parents before they could claim up to 85% of the costs back through Universal Credit. This meant that parents had to find the costs upfront and could be left waiting to be reimbursed, often leaving them in debt and resorting to payday lenders, or unable to cover childcare costs to enable them to work at all.

Nichola argued in her case that the childcare proof of payment rule indirectly discriminates against women because it disproportionately affected single parents who are predominantly women, and that the rule is irrational.

Nicola was represented by Leigh Day solicitors Carolin Ott and Tessa Gregory, counsel Chris Buttler QC and Jessica Jones from Matrix Chambers. Her legal challenge was supported by Save the Children, Gingerbread, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA). Their evidence supported Nichola’s case that payment for childcare fees upfront was vital for working parents and childcare providers alike and that the current system puts families in significant hardship and debt.

Leigh Day solicitor, Carolin Ott, who represents Nichola, said:

“Congratulations to Nichola for winning the SMK award for the best use of law. The award is extremely well deserved following her victory in the High Court and all the campaigning she has done to highlight the unfairness of the rule for working single parents, which she juggled with her work and responsibilities as a mum. We are disappointed that the Secretary of State is pursuing an appeal rather than taking necessary steps to rectify the issue immediately but hope that the Court of Appeal will uphold the High Court’s ruling in Nichola’s favour in order to ensure much needed support is put in place for parents and single parents in particular.”

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Carolin Ott is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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Tessa Gregory

Tessa is an experienced litigator who specialises in international and domestic human rights law cases

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