Two severely disabled men have won a case of unlawful discrimination against the government after their benefits were dramatically reduced when they were required to claim Universal Credit.
In June this year the High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey unlawfully discriminated against the men, who will now receive thousands of pounds in compensation after a settlement was agreed today between their lawyers, Leigh Day, and the government.
The men, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are known only as TP and AR.
TP is a former Cambridge graduate who worked in the financial sector in the City and around the world. In 2016 he was diagnosed with a terminal illness; Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Castleman’s disease.
In October 2016 when he became ill, he moved temporarily from London to his parents’ home in Dorset but after a few months he returned to Hammersmith and Fulham, where Universal Credit has been rolled out, on the advice of his doctors in order to access specialist healthcare.
AR is 36 and suffers from severe mental health issues. In 2017, he moved from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, also a Universal Credit ‘full service area’, as he could no longer afford the property he was living in after being made to pay bedroom tax.
In a witness statement to the court, AR said: “Since moving from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, with the consequent reduction in my benefits, my quality of life and my happiness has markedly reduced. Not seeing my family regularly contributes to my depressive/manic cycle. If you are isolated it means that you spiral further into a depressive cycle.”
Prior to moving, both TP and AR were in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer.
When they moved, both men were required to make a claim for Universal Credit as they lived in local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. They said they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change.
Despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to Universal Credit where circumstances remain the same”, both claimants saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved on to Universal Credit.
When they asked for top-up payments, they were told that government policy was that no such payments would be made until July 2019, when managed migration would begin.
As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically.
TP said: “The constant money worries have made me more isolated and more depressed; both because of my social isolation and because of the anxiety. The stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy was very gruelling and the anxiety around my finances and Universal Credit has made it all a lot worse.
“It has made me much more tired and much more stressed. This reduction in my income came at the worst time it could have done. I know it has had a detrimental effect on my well-being and I believe it hindered my recovery as it caused me a great deal of stress.”
He will now receive a lump sum of £6,517, which is made up of £3,277 for past financial losses and £3,240 for the non-pecuniary loss. He will also receive £173.50 a month to cover the shortfall in his benefits pending “transitional protection” coming into force.
AR will receive a lump sum of £4,788, made up of £2,108 for past financial losses and £2,680 under the claim relating to anxiety and distress. He will receive a monthly payment of £176 to make up the shortfall in his benefits.
Mr Justice Lewis described the resolution of the claim as “excellent news”.
He also encouraged the Secretary of State not to make the settlement confidential, as he said it was important that the public were aware of what had happened.
Tessa Gregory, from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, who represented the two men, said: “We are pleased that the Secretary of State has agreed to compensate our clients for the unlawful discrimination they have suffered.
“Both of our clients suffered significant hardship because of the sudden reduction to their income when they were transferred to Universal Credit.
“Following today’s hearing they will now receive a payment of damages for the pain and distress caused, a further payment reflecting the amount of money they lost as a result of being moved onto Universal Credit and an ongoing monthly sum of circa £170 to reflect future loss which will be paid until further regulations come into force.”
Gregory said she hoped the ruling would ensure McVey, MP for Tatton, would move to compensate others in the same position “without delay”.