Universal Credit recipients ‘unlawfully discriminated against’, High Court told

Thousands of people on benefits are being “unlawfully discriminated against” under a controversial Government welfare scheme, the High Court has heard.

In a test case over Universal Credit (UC), three claimants are bringing a legal challenge and argue they were left worse off after being moved on to the new system from their previous benefits.

Patricia Reynolds, 51, who is disabled and lives alone, says she lost £180 a month, while a 38-year-old woman identified only as TD and her severely disabled 12-year-old daughter received £140 less a month for 18 months.

They claim that having been transferred on to UC because of “errors” made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), they were unable to return to their previous, higher level of welfare payments.

They were also not eligible to receive “transitional protection” payments, cash top-ups designed to cover shortfalls for people moving on to UC.

Lawyers for the trio, whose case is being supported by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), told the court on Wednesday their “less favourable treatment” is unjustified.

Tom Royston, representing the claimants, said: “The claimants are complaining about, and seeking relief to alter, a state of affairs which is currently causing thousands of claimants to be worse off than they would otherwise be.”

Mr Royston said the claimants are seeking a declaration they have been “unlawfully discriminated against” as well as damages for their financial loss, distress and inconvenience.

Lawyers for Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who the case is being brought against, argue the new payments under UC are “lawful” – as is the process by which some claimants are transferred on to the new system before others.

Edward Brown, for Ms Rudd, said the claim is “in truth, a social policy disagreement dressed up as a legal challenge”.

He also said the Secretary of State “disagrees” there should be transitional payments in circumstances where people have move to UC before its planned mass roll-out.

He added: “However desirable the provision of cash might be on the facts of an individual case, the (Secretary of State’s) view is that transitional protection is not a desirable use of public monies at this time and in these cases.”

Universal Credit was created in 2012 as a replacement for various means-tested benefits including income support, housing benefit and child tax credit.

The DWP has more recently introduced measures to prevent people from transferring to UC before the first planned “mass migration”, which is due to take place in July, and also to compensate people who suffer losses by moving to the new benefit.

However, CPAG says those who are more severely disabled will still be more than £100 a month worse off under UC than the previous arrangements.

CPAG solicitor Carla Clarke said: “We say what happened to (the claimants) is both irrational and unlawful discrimination, treating them less favourably purely on account of DWP’s own incorrect decisions.

“To their credit, they are bringing the case to stop any more claimants from having to take the fallout of DWP’s poor decision-making.”

The case is the latest challenge over UC to reach the High Court and follows a victory earlier in January for four working single mothers, who claimed they were struggling financially because of the way their UC payments were calculated.

Two senior judges concluded the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had “wrongly interpreted” the relevant regulations.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Universal Credit is a force for good and over 1.6 million are receiving the benefit successfully.”

The case is due to continue on Thursday, following which Mrs Justice May is expected to reserve judgment.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.