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Benefit cap challenge succeeds at High Court

The High Court of England and Wales has decided that applying the benefit cap to lone parents with children under the age of two has a discriminatory impact on children and is, therefore, unlawful. The Department for Work and Pensions responded to this decision by confirming its intention to appeal the judgment and by issuing guidance to local authorities, instructing them to continue to apply the benefit cap as per the legislation.

Northern Ireland has its own high court and, as such, this decision is not binding on authorities operating in this jurisdiction. However, the case highlights some interesting points about how the benefit cap disproportionately affects parents of very young children.

What is the benefit cap and why has it been found to be discriminatory?

The benefit cap restricts the amounts of benefits that can be paid to a claimant. Where the claimant’s total benefits exceed the monthly cap, an amount is deducted from the claimant’s Housing Benefit or their Universal Credit payment.

Claimants who work a minimum of 16 hours are exempt from the benefit cap. The four parents involved in this case, DA & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2017] EWHC 1446 (Admin) (22 June 2017), argued that the high costs of childcare and the additional caring responsibilities associated with caring for children under the age of one made it incredibly difficult for them to work a minimum of 16 hours.

Relevant points from the decision

The full decision is available from Bailii. In his judgment, Mr Justice Collins states “Whether or not the defendant accepts my judgment, the evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals”.

As with other legal challenges to the government’s welfare reforms, the Department for Work and Pensions argued that the availability of Discretionary Housing Payments to households affected by the cap mitigated against any discriminatory impact, but the court did not agree with this, stating “…the reality is that DHPs do involve short term payments and give those affected no peace of mind. Whatever may have been the hope, the safeguard relied on is not by any means satisfactory”.

Additionally, the court felt that parents of children under the age of 2 were “…not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover” noting that the intention of the cap was to incentivise work and to ensure children did not grow up in “workless” households and that lone parents of children under the age of two would be “particularly badly affected by the cap because they are not reasonably able to work and thus escape the cap”. 

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Case law, Legal