A campaigning disability charity has taken the first step in a legal action against the government over its planned cuts to disability benefits.
Disability Alliance (DA) has issued a “letter of claim” to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), asking it to prove that it has properly analysed the impact of proposed cuts of more than £2 billion to spending on support. The DWP has 14 days to respond to the letter.
The cuts will be made as part of proposals to replace disability living allowance (DLA) with a new personal independence payment (PIP) from 2013, and are contained in the government’s welfare reform bill, which is due to receive its second reading in the House of Lords on 19 July.
The proposals would see DLA spending on working-age people cut by a fifth – saving £2.17 billion by the end of 2015/16.
DA is concerned that the government wants to cut support for those DLA claimants with lower support needs – which could see an estimated 652,000 disabled people losing weekly payments of £19.55.
The letter also asks DWP how it will mitigate the impact of plans to stop paying the mobility component of DLA to most disabled people in residential care.
DA believes the DLA proposals will “disproportionately disadvantage” disabled people and their families and that the government may have failed to pay “due regard” to the Equality Act’s public sector equality duties, and failed to take into account both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
DA believes that cutting spending on DLA will only increase costs elsewhere in the care, health and benefits systems.
This has similarities with concerns raised earlier this week, when it emerged that a civil servant in the Communities and Local Government department had written to Number 10 to warn that plans to cap benefits could see 40,000 people becoming homeless, and end up costing the government money.
Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said: “We suspect there will be cost implications in the DLA changes that are equally relevant.”
DA said it had been raising concerns about the cuts to DLA since the government’s plans were announced in June 2010, but DWP has “yet to answer how the thousands of disabled people and their families set to lose help might be affected”.
Coyle said: “Disability Alliance has sought to avoid taking legal action and we are still keen to avoid legal processes.
“Our concern is that disabled people may experience significant hardship, exclusion and ill-health as a direct result of DLA cuts.”
If the government does not provide evidence that it has carried out a robust analysis of the impact of the changes, DA is ready to seek a judicial review of its plans when the welfare reform bill becomes law, which is expected to happen later this year.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are following the usual processes and are working with disability organisations on DLA reforms, including with the design of the assessment.
“It is premature to talk about a judicial review as the regulations do not go through until 2012.”
She declined to comment when asked whether the DWP was planning to respond to the letter of claim within the two weeks.
Chris Fry, managing partner of Unity Law, the legal firm supporting DA’s legal challenge, said: “This is the most significant reform to welfare benefits of our generation, which is being driven through parliament without due regard for legal process.
“It’s morally right that the people affected by the proposals have the right to test the way in which these proposals are being formulated.”
6 July 2011