A disabled man who was unfairly found “fit for work”, and then saw his benefits slashed by almost £180 per month after he was forced onto the government’s new universal credit benefit system, is seeking justice in the high court.
It is the latest in a series of legal cases that have been taken on behalf of disabled benefit claimants against DWP, as a result of a series of welfare reforms introduced under successive Conservative and Conservative-led governments.
The man, known as IM for legal reasons, had been claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), but after undergoing a work capability assessment he was told in March last year that he was no longer eligible for ESA.
His jobcentre advised him to claim universal credit instead, which he did, but he also successfully appealed against the decision to find him fit for work.
Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now accepts that he was unfairly found fit for work and that he has limited capability for work-related activity – the equivalent of being in the ESA support group – he has been treated as a new universal credit claimant.
As a new claimant, he is not entitled to the severe disability premium (SDP) he previously received as a top-up to ESA.
If draft regulations become law, he may be entitled to the partial compensation of £80 a month agreed by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey for those who lost entitlement to SDP when they were forced to move onto universal credit.*
IM’s judicial review case has been taken by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which has described DWP’s policy as “irrational” and discriminatory.
It has secured permission for a judicial review of the failure to provide IM with transitional protection after his move to universal credit, or, alternatively, the refusal to allow him to return to ESA.
CPAG is taking a similar legal action on behalf of TD, a single mother with a disabled child, which will be heard by the high court alongside IM’s case.
TD gave up her job to become a full-time carer but had her income support terminated when her child’s disability living allowance (DLA) was about to end and before it could be renewed.
She was also told by the jobcentre to claim universal credit, which she did.
Despite DWP eventually admitting that there had been a mistake, TD is now receiving almost £140 a month less under universal credit than she did when receiving income support.
The two cases are expected to be heard together in the high court early next year.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) welcomed the judicial review and warned that if it was not successful, many other disabled people would be affected in a similar way.
DPAC said DWP was clearly engaged in “another cost-saving exercise”.
A DPAC spokesperson said: “Financially, the incentive for DWP is to find as many claimants as possible fit for work.
“Even if the decision is overturned, DWP is saving money by transferring claimants to universal credit.
“This is clearly just more evidence that universal credit is beyond being fixed.
“People already living on poverty-level social security payments are simply and randomly being thrown even further into destitution.”
Claire Glasman, from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women – said: “Families are being devastated by abolition of income support, which is some recognition of caring work.
“We are contacted by stressed out mothers at their wits’ end when their children’s DLA and their carer benefits are threatened by the brutal personal independence payment [which is replacing working-age DLA] and universal credit system.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are not able to comment on an ongoing legal case.”
*An early version of this story stated that IM was not entitled to this partial compensation.
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