The high court has this week heard the latest stage in a long-running battle to secure justice for thousands of disabled benefit claimants who lost out financially after being forced onto universal credit.
The hearing, due to end today (Thursday), concerns policies that left many claimants worse off when their circumstances changed and they had to move from legacy benefits like employment and support allowance onto universal credit (UC).
Two of the three claimants taking the case – known as TP and AR for legal reasons – have already twice defeated the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the court of appeal in connected cases.
Their first legal case challenged rules that meant they lost out on about £180 a month in the move to UC, because they were no longer receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).
DWP responded by temporarily stopping other claimants in similar positions from migrating onto UC and introducing payments of about £80 month for those already affected.
TP and AR then had to take another legal case – which they also won – because this payment failed to bridge the gap between what they were now receiving and what they would have been receiving if they were still claiming ESA.
Despite the two victories, they were forced to take a third legal action after DWP announced that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when another set of regulations came into force to protect other claimants in similar situations – would be set at a lower rate than the £180 a month they had secured through the second case.
They have been joined in the third case by another disabled claimant, AB, who has a partner and a child, and has lost out by even more.
TP and AR are currently losing out by £60 a month and AB and her partner by nearly £400 a month.
TP said last month: “It has been entirely frustrating and exhausting having to exist on an overall unreasonable cut in financial assistance brought about by a move forced upon me into universal credit, whilst at the same time battling debilitating illness during a most challenging period of increased expenditure during this pandemic.
“The principle of a fair transition into universal credit has already been upheld by the courts on numerous occasions now, yet the government has been dragging its feet for a prolonged period of time to my detriment in abiding by these rulings both in letter and spirit.”
AR added: “Yet again I am having to go to court and fight for what is fair.
“Over the last years I should have had much needed support in place to help me get through the challenges I face on a daily basis as a result of my disabilities, but instead I have had to put time and energy into fighting for that support.
“I hope this is the last time we have to fight the secretary of state for support that is so obviously needed.”
Their solicitor, Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day, said last month that it was “difficult to believe that our clients have been forced to bring a third set of legal proceedings against the government in order to ensure they and thousands of other severely disabled persons are not unlawfully discriminated against following their move on to universal credit”.
AB and her child are represented by Southwark Law Centre, with all three claimants represented by barristers from Matrix Chambers.
The hearing is due to end today, with judgment likely to be reserved to a future date.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…