2013 05 Welfare Benefits

Saturday 1 June 2013

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More than 20,000 London households to lose benefit as a result of the benefit cap

In response to a written question in Parliament on 13 May 2013, Work and Pensions Minister Mark Hoban provided details of the number of households in each London borough that are expected to see a fall in their weekly income as a result of the benefit cap, and in doing so confirmed that 21,800 households are expected to lose benefit, with 7,300 expected to lose more than £100 a week.

NB - the benefit cap was introduced in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey from 15 April 2013, and will be rolled out nationally from 15 July 2013.

Click here for Mr Hoban's written answer from Hansard 13 May 2013: Column 66.

Click here for The Standard dated 17 May 2013: ‘Benefits cuts will leave Londoners £5,000 a year worse off’.

Social housing landlords training staff to spot tenants at risk of suicide

According to the Independent on 17 May 2013, social landlords are spending thousands of pounds training staff to identify tenants at risk of committing suicide as benefit and public sector cuts take their toll on deprived communities. Call-centre staff, housing officers, and even maintenance workers, are being sent on courses teaching participants how to judge whether someone is suicidal or suffering from mental health problems. The report states that Housing associations are experiencing an increase in mental distress among social tenants facing eviction or struggling to keep up with rent and other bills due to benefit cuts and the overhaul of the welfare system. The report continues:

The mental health charity Mind warned that many people with underlying mental health problems would be specifically affected by the overhaul of the benefits system, including the replacement of the disability living allowance and cuts to housing benefit. “We know that people’s homes are important to them,” said senior policy and campaigns officer Tom Pollard. “There’s a lot going on and people are very worried about what the impact is going to be. They feel very unsettled and that the future is uncertain. That will have a significant impact on people’s mental health.”

Click here for Independent article ‘Social housing landlords training staff to spot tenants at risk of suicide’.

Universal credit is in danger of failing to meet its objectives

In,'Will Universal Credit Work?', published on 7 May 2013, the TUC and the Child Poverty Action Group consider universal credit's three main objectives - to reduce poverty, to make work pay and to simplify benefits – but conclude that there are doubts about each ojective’s achievability. For example, on reducing poverty it states: 'Only around one in ten working age households will see any overall gain from universal credit, when other benefit reforms are taken into account.”

Click here for t ‘Will Universal Credit Work?’

Sharp increase in DHP applications following introduction of ‘bedroom tax’

On 9 May 2013, ‘Inside Housing’ reported that there has been a sharp increase in applications for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) in April 2013, following the introduction of size-criteria restrictions in the social rented sector (known as the 'bedroom tax'). For example, Birmingham saw the number of DHP claims rise from 496 in April last year to 2,601 last month, which was a 50 per cent increase compared to the applications it received in the first quarter of last year.

Click here for Inside Housing article ‘Demand for hardship fund surges’

Click here for Guardian article 18 May 2013- 'Bedroom tax' prompts surge in pleas for council aid’ - More than 25,000 people applied for DHP to help cover April rent, compared with 5,700 in same month last year.

Click here for Independent article 18 May 2013 - Revealed: Devastating impact of 'bedroom tax' sees huge leap in demand for emergency hardship handouts for tenants – Demand for emergency handouts increases by 338 per cent.

The DWP's Direct Payment Demonstration Projects

On 16 May 2013, the DWP published’ Research Report 839, Direct Payments Demonstration Projects: Learning the lessons, six months in’, which contains an evaluation of the projects. The Report includes the following passage on the risks direct payments pose to tenants (at page 14):

  • Data produced by Project Areas and made available by DWP in December 2012 reveals that rent collection rates are lower in all Project Areas than before the DPDPs. Some tenants who have never had rent arrears before (sometimes because their rent has been fully covered by HB and paid to the landlord) are now in arrears.
  • Direct Debit as a method for rental payments is favoured by many landlords but there are questions about how appropriate Direct Debit is for some social housing tenants. A small miscalculation or an administrative error can result (and has done so) in bank charges, leaving tenants with no funds for food and other bill payments ...
  • Short budgeting cycles (one or two weeks) emerged as an important financial management strategy. Tenants also compartmentalised different income sources, allocating each to a different outgoing. Many were uncomfortable about having all their income in one place or receiving it at the same time and expressed alarm at the prospect of a monthly budgeting cycle. This raises obvious issues for UC which will be delivered in precisely this way.

Click here for Research Report 839, Direct Payments Demonstration Projects: Learning the lessons, six months in’

Announcement by Lord Freud

On 16 May 2013, the Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud announced that the DWP's Direct Payment Demonstration Projects, designed to assess the support needed by tenants in the social rented sector to prepare for direct payment of housing support under universal credit, that went ‘live’ in six local authority areas in June and July 2012 and were originally intended to run for only a year, are now to be extended for a further six months. Click here for DWP press release.

Right to reside test unlawful

On 30 May 2013 the European Commission referred the government to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the basis that the UK right to reside test is unlawful. The Commission lists the UK social security benefits concerned as child benefit; child tax credit; jobseeker’s allowance (income-based); state pension credit; and employment and support allowance (income-related). However, the BBC reports Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith as saying that he would fight the case 'every step of the way'.

Click here for the European Commission announcement.

Click here for BBC News report.

Case-law

The claimant in OR v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Isle of Angelsey C.C (HB) [2013] UKUT 65 (AAC) (S. Wright) was refused housing benefit (HB) for the night shelter charges. He had stayed in a night shelter for rough sleepers over a period of several months. The Upper Tribunal concluded that the claimant’s stay at the accommodation did not fall within the phrase ‘dwelling occupied as the home’ in section 130(1) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992:

‘In my judgment, a person who is allowed to stay overnight (for a charge) at a night shelter but is not allowed to remain there during the day and so has to leave in the morning taking all his belongings with him, and has no right to stay in any part of the night shelter or indeed right generally to stay there (in the sense that if he turns up late and the shelter is full he will be turned away), is not occupying a dwelling as his home’ (para 4).

Click here for judgment:

See also the media reports on the decision:

Click here for 'Inside Housing: ‘Confusion over benefits puts shelters in jeopardy’

Click here for The Guardian: ‘Benefits rule risks closure of night shelters forcing hundreds onto streets’

In DM v LB of Lewisham and SSWP(HB) [2013] UKUT 26 (AAC) (J Mesher) the Upper Tribunal held that redecoration does not constitute adaptation of a dwelling to meet disablement needs. The claimant, who required kidney dialysis three times a week, accepted the offer of a new tenancy in more suitable accommodation (his previous accommodation was damp), but was unable to move for three weeks, because the new flat needed to be cleaned and redecorated to minimize the risk of infection. His claim for housing benefit (HB) on the new accommodation for the period before he moved was disallowed. A tribunal decided that he did not satisfy regulation 7(8) of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/213) and he was not, therefore, entitled to HB on two homes under regulation 7(6)(e)(e), because in accordance with case-law, redecoration did not amount to ‘adapting a dwelling’ to meet disablement needs (R(H) 4/07). The Upper Tribunal considered whether the tribunal had correctly applied regulation 7(8) in the light of the case-law, and whether the decision was incompatible with the claimant’s Convention Rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. The Upper Tribunal Judge said he was not satisfied that it was wrongly decided, given the inherent uncertainty of the meaning of the word ‘adapt’ in the HB regulations. With regard to the human rights arguments, the Judge held that there was no direct breach of Article 8 of the ECHR, and that any discrimination under Article 14 was justified applying the test of whether the discrimination was ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’ in Humphreys v HMRC [2012] UKSC 18, [2012] 1 WLR 1545. Click here for judgment.

In MW v SSWP (AA) [2013] UKUT 158 (AAC) (E. A. L. Bano) the Upper Tribunal gave guidance on the proper approach to evaluating and weighing medical evidence. The claimant, who suffered from angina, diabetes, osteoarthritis, anxiety and depression, appealed against a decision refusing a claim for attendance allowance. The evidence before the tribunal had included two letters from the claimant’s consultant orthopaedic surgeon. The tribunal dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it preferred the EMP’s evidence to the evidence submitted on behalf of the claimant. Allowing the appeal, Upper Tribunal Judge Bano said that the flaw in the tribunal’s reasoning was the common one of viewing the case as a contest between the EMP’s evidence and evidence from other professionals involved in the claimant’s care. In the instant case the EMP and the orthopaedic surgeon had both provided evidence from different perspectives, each of which was of value to the tribunal in reaching reasoned conclusions on the basis of all the available evidence. Click here for the judgment.

In Alarape & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EUECJ C-529/11 (Second Chamber: President of Chamber R Silva de Lapuerta (Rapporteur); Judges G Arestis, J-C Bonichot, A Arabadjiev, JL da Cruz Vilaça) the CJEU held that periods of residence by family members of a Union citizen who are not nationals of a Member State solely on the basis of Article 12 of Regulation No 1612/68, could not be taken into consideration for the purposes of acquisition by those family members of a right of permanent residence under Article 16 of Directive 2004/38: Ziolkowski and Szeja (C-424/10 and C-425/10) applied. Click here for the judgment.

In MM & DM v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2013] UKUT 0260 (AAC) (Mr Justice Charles and UT Judges Jacobs and Lane) a three-judge panel of Upper Tribunal ruled in a judicial review transferred from the High Court that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) discriminates against claimants with mental health problems pursuant to s. 20(3) of the Equality Act 2010. This was because the present practice of the SSWP relating to further medical evidence had the result that a significant number of claims by claimants with mental health problems are placed at a substantial disadvantage. The Upper Tribunal ordered the DWP to carry out an investigation and then return to court to explain what steps it intends to take to address the disadvantage. Click here for judgment.

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