UK government faces £150m bill over social welfare discrimination

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Yui Mok/PA</span>
Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The UK government faces a £150m bill after a court confirmed tens of thousands of severely disabled people were discriminated against as a result of being left financially worse off after being moved on to universal credit.

A scathing judgment handed down on Friday marks the fourth victory in a six-year fight for justice against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) brought by two disabled men who had their disability benefit payments cut by £180 a month after they moved house more than five years ago.

The men, known as TP and AR, began their legal challenge in 2016 and 2017, arguing the deduction was discriminatory and had caused them serious hardship. Despite rulings in the pair’s favour by both the high court and the court of appeal, the DWP still refused to compensate their full monthly loss, offering instead just £120.

Friday’s judgment found the DWP had once again discriminated against the men. The judge, Mr Justice Holgate, said the secretary of state for work and pensions had been unable to show “an objective and reasonable justification” for her differential treatment of people in TP and AR’s position.

The judgment also found in favour of a disabled mother and child, known as claimants AB and F, who had lost disability payments in child tax credit when they moved on to universal credit without transitional relief. They had suffered discrimination “manifestly without reasonable foundation”, the judge found.

According to evidence provided by the DWP to the court during the claim, Friday’s ruling will affect up to 50,000 claimants, while the cost of providing transitional relief will involve sums of £20m to £30m a year over a six-year period.

Responding to the ruling, TP said: “I am relieved that the judge agrees that the DWP treated us differently than other severely disabled benefits claimants and that it was wrong to do so. The past six years have been immensely stressful as I have struggled to get by on a lower income. I just hope that the DWP will put all of this right as soon as possible so that those of us who have been badly affected by this unfair policy can get on with our lives.”

AR said: “The policy has caused me and others serious hardship and I am glad that the court has seen the sense in our argument. Hopefully we will be ‘fourth time lucky’ and finally have reached the end of the road fighting this unfair policy.”

Tessa Gregory, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, which represented the pair, said she did not understand why the DWP kept fighting the case. “Following the three previous findings of unlawful discrimination the DWP should have ensured our clients were not losing out on severe and enhanced disability payments following their move from legacy benefits to universal credit.

“Instead after each judgment the DWP has made further attempts to short-change this group of highly vulnerable claimants who faced a cliff-edge loss of income when none of their disability needs has changed.”

Before moving on to universal credit, both men had been in receipt of the severe disability premium (SDP) and the enhanced disability premium (EDP) benefits, which were designed to meet the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer.

Despite being advised by DWP officials that they would receive transitional relief – meaning in effect their income would not change – when they moved on to universal credit and their EDP and SDP payments stopped, each had £178 a month deducted, leaving them unable to meet key care needs.

TP moved house on clinical advice after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Castleman disease. AR, who had mental illness, moved after the bedroom tax forced him to find a cheaper home. Both were moved on to universal credit automatically.

The DWP was approached for comment.