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Revised benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents with children under two, High Court rules

22 June 2017

Shu Shin LuhConnor Johnston

In a robustly worded judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Collins found the revised benefits cap operated to unlawfully discriminate lone parents with children under the age of two and those children under the age of two.

The judicial review challenge, DA and Others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, was brought by a group of single parents, each of whom had at least one child under the age of two. Owing to the young age of the children, and the lack of sufficient free child care provision for this age group, the claimants represented a wider cohort of lone parents and children affected by the cap, with little prospects of escaping their predicament. This, it was argued, meant that the ‘work incentive’ put forward by the Government to justify the cap, had no application to this group.

The claimants argued that the imposition of the cap on lone parents with children under two amounted to unlawful discrimination contrary to Articles 8, 14 and Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The claimants arguments were supported by Shelter, as intervener, who provided evidence to the court on the lack of affordable accommodation across the country and the severe financial hardship faced by those affected by the cap, as well as the risk of homelessness and the shortcomings in measures such as discretionary housing payments, said to mitigate against the impact of the cap.

Allowing the claim, Mr Justice Collins further stated that:

“Whether or not the defendant accepts my judgment, the evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement. Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP, they will remain benefit households. Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

Anne Baxendale, Head of Communications, Policy and Campaigns at Shelter, commented:

“Many of the families that come to Shelter for advice say the benefit cap is pushing them into homelessness. Many desperately want to work but can’t make up the required hours of work a week due to childcare issues or insecure work like zero hours contracts. That’s why we’re pleased today’s High Court judgment, which Shelter provided evidence for, has found that the cap discriminates against lone parents with children under two. In the words of the judge, ‘real misery is being caused to no good purpose.’ We are calling on the government to scrap the cap immediately, before it pushes even more people into homelessness.”

Shu Shin Luh and Connor Johnston of the Garden Court Public Law and Housing teams were instructed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for the intervener, Shelter. They were led by Martin Westgate QC of Doughty Street Chambers. Ian Wise QC, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Michael Armstrong were instructed by Hopkin Murray Beskin for the claimants.

The full judgment is available: DA and Others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2017] EWHC 1446 (Admin)

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