New DWP statistics on first phase of the benefit cap
On 3 July 2013 the DWP issued ad hoc statistics based on data relating to the first phase of the cap that began, on 15 April 2013, in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey. Key findings include that, at the end of May 2013, across the 4 phased areas,
- just over 2.4 thousand households had their housing benefit capped;
- 86 per cent of households had between one and four children; and
- 67 per cent of households were capped by £100 or less.
The DWP ad-hoc analysis, Benefit cap - number of households capped across phased area Local Authorities data to May 2013 is available from gov.uk (Click here).
Impact of the bedroom tax
Based on figures collected by the National Housing Federation (NHF).from 18 housing associations across Merseyside, the report published on 5 July 2013: The bedroom tax in Merseyside - 100 days on, highlights that thousands of families are 'spiralling into debt' for the first time and are facing an 'impossible dilemma' – to pay the bedroom tax and face financial hardship, or to try to downsize despite there being a huge local shortfall in smaller homes. For example, the NHF reports that -
- during the first four weeks of the bedroom tax coming into force more than 14,000 Merseyside households fell into arrears with their rent - 6,000 of which went into arrears for the first time; and
- nearly 26,500 households in Merseyside are being impacted by the bedroom tax, yet due to a shortage of smaller homes only 155 managed to downsize into housing association properties in April 2013.
The bedroom tax in Merseyside - 100 daysis available on the NHF website. (Click here).
See also the report published on 24 July 2013 by Aragon Housing: Association: “100 Should I stay or should I go? 100 days of the Bedroom Tax". (Click here).
Peers urge government to stop legal aid cuts
On 11 July 2013 Baroness Deech led a debate on the effect of cuts in legal aid funding on the justice system in England and Wales. The following extracts are taken from the Debate:
- “The effect of the reforms is to make judicial review in practice unavailable to many of those most in need of its protection. No doubt, the Lord Chancellor and some of his colleagues in government find judicial review an irritant, but the critical issue is whether the proposals will in practice take a wrecking ball to our constitution and the rule of law”: Lord Irvine of Lairg.
- “I find it hard to believe that a Government which truly understood and respected the rule of law, which had taken the trouble to appreciate what that phrase really means and assess the consequences of what they had in mind, would have even contemplated introducing some of the proposals that have attracted so much criticism this afternoon”: Lord Hope of Craighead.
- “Respect for the rule of law, which is so important, is capable of being forfeited and lost if excessive cuts are made affecting potential litigants. I wish that the Government would bear that in mind in considering how far to take the inroads into the legal aid bill for the purpose of cutting government expenditure. I hope that it will not happen to a point that the rule of law loses the respect that at present it commands. It cannot be taken for granted by the Government that that will not happen and I hope that they keep that in mind”:Lord Scott of Foscote.
The debate also commented upon the effect of the changes introduced on 1 April 2013 following the coming into force of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012:
- “The Mary Ward Centre, which has given 100 years of service to the poor in London, is now turning away 15 people each week. It has no contracts in benefit cases because that is out of scope. It has four debt cases where there were 400 this time last year. What are poor Londoners going to do when the Mary Ward Centre cannot look after them? The Government cannot hide their eyes from this. Social welfare law helped hundreds of thousands of people who were given quality advice on legal issues that affected their everyday lives, for less than one tenth of the whole cost of legal aid. Lawyers did not get rich on it, but poor people got some access to justice”: Lord Bach.
- “The Newcastle Law Centre, which I played a small part in creating and supporting, is now down to one lawyer and can undertake legal aid only for immigration cases, and even those cases are financed by the council’s Newcastle Fund for voluntary sector projects. Since 29 April, it has had to turn away 80 cases out of 138 which would previously have qualified as being in scope. The cases were mainly on family, welfare and immigration matters. That matches a 59% reduction in cases lost after the cuts at the Islington Law Centre. Newcastle Citizens Advice Bureau has lost qualified professionals and in three months has had a 40% increase in welfare cases, with 157 people who are now out of scope for tribunal representation having to be given unlimited advice on self-help, 83 of them seeking to challenge Atos assessments. As we have heard, fees for interpreters and doctors’ letters can no longer be funded. The CAB in Gateshead lost £500,000 of funding. ... For hundreds of thousands of people and their dependents, there is a no entry sign where once there was access to justice. As we have heard, that applies to judicial review, to family cases including domestic violence, to prisoners, to immigration, to trafficking, to debt and welfare cases and to children and young people. I hope that the Government will listen to the debate today, which has been virtually exclusively critical of what they are doing and think again about the impact—perhaps not foreseen—that they are having on the lives of too many of our fellow citizens and other residents of this country”: Lord Beecham:
For the record of the debate: Legal Aid, Motion to Take Note: Hansard 11 July 2013: Column 445 to 484. (Click here).
Government considering changes to cap 'once it has been shown to work'
According to media reports on 16 July 2013 the benefit cap could be reduced to from £26,000 to £20,000. See BBC story, Benefit cap 'could be lowered by £6,000' (Click here).
There were also reports that the Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has suggested that child-related benefits for unemployed parents should be capped at two children and that housing benefit could be denied to the under 25s. See Telegraph story of 16 July 2013 Child-related benefits for jobless could be capped at two children. (Click here).
In another media story dated 17 July 2017, Mr Hoban, the Minister for Employment said the Benefit cap may be too high outside London and that the Government is considering lowering the cap to £20,000. However, the Telegraph also reported government sources as saying that there were 'no plans' to change the level of the cap before 2015.
For more information, see Mark Hoban: benefits cap may be too high outside London on the Telegraph website (Click here).
The national roll out of the benefit cap
On 15 July 2013 the roll out of the benefit cap originally started in the boroughs of Enfield, Haringey, Bromley and Croydon in April 20013 started to roll out so that by the end of September, 40,000 households are expected to have their benefits capped, with a proposed saving of £110m this year and £185m next year. For more information, see National introduction of benefit cap begins on gov.uk. (Click here).
Councils no longer provide emergency loans following abolition of the Discretionary Social Fund
On 18 July 2013 the Children’s Society produced a report: Nowhere to turn? Changes to emergency support, The report is based on responses to Freedom of Information requests sent to all local authorities in England, and a review of their local welfare assistance schemes. The findings include that: -
- there has been a real-terms cut of £151 million (46%) in funding for local welfare assistance schemes compared to money spent on community care grants and crisis loans through the social fund since 2010;
- the majority of schemes (62%) are not providing interest-free emergency loans, forcing people to turn to loan sharks; and
- the vast majority (81%) of local schemes are replacing cash assistance support, provided by the social fund, with 'in-kind' benefits.
In addition, the Children's Society found a number of councils imposing strict criteria, such as requiring claimants to prove they cannot borrow from family and friends, or use credit cards and store cards to buy goods and services. For more information see Decline in support leaves struggling families with few options from the Children's Society website. (Click here).
Work and Pensions Committee launches inquiry into 'support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system'
On 24 July 2013 the Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an inquiry into 'support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system'. The inquiry will look at the effects of recent changes - including local housing allowance reforms; direct payment of housing costs to claimants; the household benefit cap; the 'bedroom tax'; and localised council tax support - and the ways in which housing cost support might be provided in the welfare system in the future, as universal credit is rolled out nationally. The deadline for submitting evidence is Friday 27 September 2013. For more information see Support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system from parliament.uk (Click here).
Universal credit pilots
On 25 July 2013 the DWP published an evaluation of local authority-led universal credit pilots. Key 'challenges' highlighted by the report include -
- that large groups of service users have limited access to the internet from home and lack IT skills – some local authorities report around 50-60% access;
- many social housing tenants have problems with debt and rent arrears; and
- authorities report difficulties in getting people to engage with the welfare and benefit changes that are likely to affect them;
DWP research report 848, Local Authority Led Pilots: A summary of early learning from the pilots, is available from gov.uk. (Click here).
Bedroom tax legal challenge dismissed by high court
On 30 July 2013 Laws LJ, sitting with Cranston J in the Administrative Court dismissed a challenge to the bedroom tax’ holding that the courts should not "micro-manage" policy decisions and that £30m in discretionary housing payments granted local authorities enough flexibility to deal with shortfalls. For further details see article in the Guardian (Click here) and for the transcript of the judgment (R(MA & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 2213) click here.
It is settled law that evidence in relation to one benefit may be material in connection with another benefit: see DR v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  UKUT 210 (AAC). In EK v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (ESA)  UKUT 126 (AAC) (Judge C.G. Ward) the Upper Tribunal held, in an ESA appeal, that an error of law may result if the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions fails to include in the submission to the First-tier Tribunal material evidence relating to an award of DLA to the claimant not long before the date of the ESA decision under appeal. Click here for transcript.
In JH v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (ESA)  UKUT 269 (AAC) (Judge Mark) the Upper Tribunal commented on the limited value of a report by a physiotherapist on mental health issues in an ESA appeal.
“Where, … the disability analyst is a physiotherapist and the problems she is dealing with are mental health problems the opinion of the physiotherapist as to the conclusions to be drawn have no probative value whatsoever. This is because the physiotherapist has no professional expertise in mental health matters.” (At para )
It is plainly important that questions of mental health should be assessed by a disability analyst with appropriate mental health qualifications if their opinion is to be of any evidential value. Even then tribunals should beware of placing too much weight on such reports, based as they are on a very short interview with a claimant and without access to medical records.” (At para ).
JT v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (DLA)  UKUT 221 (AAC) (Judge Wright) the Upper Tribunal set aside a tribunal’s assessment of a claimant’s walking ability based on one-off walking in an airport and commented that reliance on such evidence is notoriously prone to difficulties. Click here for transcript.