Universal Credit payments received an uplift in 2020 as all claimants saw their income increase by £20 a week. This uplift was awarded to help families struggling with coronavirus but the increase was not awarded to those on legacy benefits such as housing benefit or income support.
The Government was pushed repeatedly on this and in March 2021 two disabled claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA), represented by the legal firm Osbornes Law, launched a legal challenge against the Government.
They argued the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) apparent failure to extend the uplift to those on ESA was unlawfully discriminatory, based on the European Convention on Human Rights.
Today, Osbornes Law revealed that the High Court granted claimants of ESA to challenge the DWP’s decision not to increase their benefit in line with Universal Credit.
In response to the announcement, William Ford, the solicitor for the Claimants, issued the following comments: “We are pursuing this legal challenge based on the proposition that the pandemic means those dependent upon basic allowances are facing higher basic living costs, and yet despite their very similar circumstances, only some of them receive a Covid-specific uplift to help meet those costs.
“This unfairness calls for a properly evidenced justification, particularly as almost two million disabled people are disproportionately affected by this decision and the pandemic generally.
“Thus far the Government has failed to provide any objectively verifiable reason for the difference in treatment of people in essentially identical circumstances.”
The news also caught the attention of Eve Byrne, the Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs at Macmillan Cancer Support, who said: “For many, the £20 increase to Universal Credit has meant the difference between affording to eat or going hungry, and today’s High Court decision is a welcome step for millions of people on legacy benefits – including some of the most vulnerable in society – who have been hit hard by the unjust decision to deny them this.
“Day in and day out, Macmillan hears from people worried about starting their cancer treatment because they don’t know how they will pay their bills or put food on the table, while unable to earn a living due to their diagnosis.
“The Government must take urgent action by supporting all vulnerable people on low incomes by extending the £20 increase to legacy benefits and making it permanent to prevent further discrimination.”
In response to todays ruling, a DWP spokesperson said: “It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit if they believe that they will be better off.”
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In early 2021, DWP minister Will Quince was interviewed by Express.co.uk and he was questioned on the uplift in regards to legacy benefits.
He had the following to say: “We increased legacy benefits by 1.7 percent and they’ll increase next year again by 0.5 percent so both in line with CPI and that’s standard practice.
“I think there are two points really. The £20 per week temporary measure was very much designed to give additional support to those facing the most financial disruption as a result of the pandemic.
“It also, as it happened, brought Universal Credit in line with SSP [Statutory Sick Pay] and in addition, we wouldn’t have been able to make the system changes to what are quite archaic legacy benefits systems even if we had wanted to.
“The other point to make is the future is Universal Credit, and we have been absolutely clear as a government that we want people to move over from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit, with the exception of those who are part of the Severe Disability Premium gateway, but that’s a very small cohort of people.
“People do have the choice and ability to move over to Universal Credit from legacy benefits.”
More recently, in early March Thérèse Coffey, the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, was questioned on this in Parliament.
Marion Fellows, the Scottish National Party MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said: “The budget was a kick in the teeth for people claiming legacy benefits, who have been unjustly denied the extra £20 per week in support since last March.
“The SNP has pressed UK government ministers on this countless times.
“Will the minister now answer a simple yes or no question, yes or no, did the Secretary of State ask the Chancellor to extend the £20 uplift to legacy benefits in the Budget?”
In response, Thérèse had the following to say: “Discussions between government ministers are normally confidential but the answer is no.
“And the reason being is that we have a process that was put in place as a temporary measure relating to COVID, the rationale for that was set out last year.
“And I want to encourage her [Marion Fellows] to genuinely consider encouraging people who are still on legacy benefits to go to independent benefits calculators to see if they would automatically be better off under Universal Credit.
“Universal Credit has been a huge success during the last 12 months if not the years before it.
“But it’s particularly showing its worth [now] and for those people [on legacy benefits], I genuinely want to encourage them to really consider whether financially you’d be better off. Moving benefits now, rather than waiting, potentially to be managed migrated within the next few years.”
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