The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.
Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.
They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).
This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP.
In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.
TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.
AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.
Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.
SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.
When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC.
Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.
Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.
They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.
They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.
If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.
AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.
“Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.
“Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”
TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.
“It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”
A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.
But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”
Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.
Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.
Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.
“Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.
“We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”
Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums.
Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.
Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.
DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.
But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.
Picture: Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice during another universal credit court case
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