Four working single mothers have won a High Court challenge over the government’s controversial Universal Credit welfare scheme.
The women said the government’s flagship benefits programme, which is being rolled out across the country, left them struggling financially because of the way their payments are calculated.
Two judges in London announced on Friday that they had succeeded in a judicial review action against work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd over the “proper method” of calculating the amount of Universal Credit payable to them.
Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Lewis said they had concluded that the “secretary of state had wrongly interpreted” the relevant regulations.
The judges explained that as each of the women received her salary on or around either the last working day or last banking day of the month, there were times when salaries payable in respect of two different months were paid during one monthly assessment period.
In a summary of their decision, they said the secretary of state was “wrong to treat the combined salaries for two different months as the amount of earned income received in respect of a single monthly assessment period simply because both salaries happened to have been received within that assessment period because of the dates on which they were paid”.
The judges said Rudd was wrong to allow each of the claimants to retain only one amount of £192 from the combined amount of the two months’ salaries.
Tessa Gregory, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, who represented part-time dinner lady Danielle Johnson, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, said: “My client is a hard-working single mum doing her very best to support her family. She is precisely the kind of person Universal Credit was supposed to help, yet the DWP designed a rigid income assessment system which left her £500 out of pocket over the year and spiralling into debt due to a fluctuating income.
“Quite rightly, the court has found that the secretary of state has been acting unlawfully and ruled that a correct interpretation of the regulations would not lead to such absurd results.
“It is extraordinary that when this issue was first raised, the secretary of state did not act quickly to remedy the problem, instead choosing to fight these four women in court arguing that the system was fit for purpose despite the hardship being caused to working families. This is yet another demonstration of how broken Universal Credit is and why its roll-out must be stopped.”
Gregory said that in light of the judgment, Rudd must take immediate steps to ensure that no other claimants were adversely affected and those who had been were compensated.
Solicitor Carla Clarke, of the Child Poverty Action Group, which also brought the case on behalf of the lone mothers, said: “This is a very welcome and common-sense judgment which clearly establishes that the DWP has been applying its universal credit regulations incorrectly.
“Working parents on low incomes should not lose out on the support that Parliament intended them to receive because the DWP has designed a rigid process that is out of step with both actual reality and the law.”
She added: “Today’s result should mean that in future no-one will lose out on their Universal Credit awards or face the hardship that my clients have faced simply because of when their payday happens to fall.”
Rudd said the ruling would be considered by the DWP.
Speaking to reporters after a speech on Universal Credit in Kennington, South London, the work and pensions secretary added: “While I have been speaking that has been announced.
“You will have to bear with me, I’m not going to reply in full to that yet.
“I’m going to have to consider it in the department and then we will be coming forward with what our response is going to be.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We are carefully considering the court’s judgment.”