2013 08 Welfare Benefits

Sunday 1 September 2013

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New study on the impact of welfare reforms on tenants

Published on 5 August '2013 impacts of welfare reforms' is a study produced by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion), which was commissioned by the Local Government Association. It contains an assessment of the cumulative impact of the government's welfare reforms and compares the financial impact on benefit recipients in a given area with the local job opportunities and potential to move into cheaper accommodation. The report concludes that due to the shortage of jobs and affordable homes in many areas that less than a quarter of those affected by welfare reforms will be able to find work or move house. It also states that the £155m in funding for discretionary housing payments which has been made available so far represents just £1 in every £7 of the £1bn per year impact of housing reforms on tenants. The Inclusion and LGA report, The local impacts of welfare reforms, is available from local.gov.uk (Click here).

DSS statistics on the Benefit Cap

In an ad-hoc analysis, 'Benefit cap – number of households capped across phased area Local Authorities data to June 2013', published on 7 August 2013, the DWP sets out an update on findings from 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 June 2013, 85 per cent of households whose benefit was capped in the period from 15 April 2013 to the end of June 2013 had between one and four children. The DWP ad-hoc analysis, Benefit cap - number of households capped across phased area Local Authorities data to June 2013 is available from gov.uk (Click here).

Guidance on the national implementation of the Benefit Cap

On 16 August 2013, the DWP issued new guidance in an Urgent Bulletin to local authority housing benefit departments in relation to the national implementation of the benefit cap which started on 15 July 2013 and will be completed by the end of September 2013: Click here for HB Bulletin G8/2013.

DWP publish estimates used to calculate Benefit Cap

On 22 August 2013 the DWP published estimates of median weekly earnings and total income of ‘benefit units in response to demand for estimates used for the government’s considerations of the level of the benefit cap. The cap is set at £350 per week for a single adult, and £500 per week for a couple, with or without dependent children, or a lone parent. The DWP reports that the 2011/12 median net weekly earnings / total income were -

  • £270 / £280 for single adults with no children;
  • £200 / £400 for lone parents;
  • £590 / £640 for couples with no children; and
  • £600 / £670 for couples with children.

The estimates are taken from the 2011/12 version of the DWP’s Family Resources Survey. Median weekly earnings and total incomes of benefit units 2011 to 2012 is available from gov.uk (Click here).

Case-law

In BH v SSWP (AA) [[2013] UKUT 241 (AAC) (Judge Wright) the Upper Tribunal held that the mantra – 'GP's evidence is based just on what patient told him' is best avoided, but if used must be justified. The claimant appealed against a decision that he was not entitled to attendance allowance. In its reasons for dismissing the appeal, the tribunal rejected a letter from the GP regarding the claimant’s arthritis on the grounds that it was 'just reiterating what [the claimant] had told him'. The Upper Tribunal set the tribunal’s decision aside holding that:

"in many First-tier Tribunals’ statements of reasons but rarely, in my experience at least, with proper findings of fact or evidential base to back it up or a proper explanation as to why the tribunal drew this inference (or, indeed, an exploration with the appellant about why his or her GP may simply be saying what he or she had been told by the appellant). A claimant’s GP is just as professional as any other doctor or health care professional who gives evidence to a tribunal, and, save where a proper explanation is given as to why he or she would do this, should not be assumed to simply be a vehicle for repeating what the claimant has told the GP as opposed to offering the GP’s professional opinion." (At para [14].) (Click here for judgment).

In R (MA and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Equality and Human Rights Commission and another intervening) [2013] EWHC 2213 (Admin)(QB) (Laws LJ, Cranston J) the claimants challenged the validity of the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3040) (which inserted regulation B13 into the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006) on two principle grounds:

  • that regulation B13 discriminates against them by virtue of their disability, contrary to article 14 and article 1 protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
  • that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions failed to have due regard to disability when formulating the policy, in breach of his public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010

The High Court dismissed the challenge holding that in relation to disabled adults the policy did not breach their ECHR rights and that the duty to have due regard to the impact of the policy on disabled claimants had been complied with. There were, in total, ten claimants. All required an extra bedroom either because of serious physical or mental health difficulties that affected them or a member (or more) of their families. The Court held that:

  • In contrast to Burnip, Trengove and Gorry v SSWP [2012] EWCA Civ 629, the ten claimants did not constitute a discrete class of persons (those who need extra bedroom space by reason of their disability) which was capable of being identified in practical and objective terms (para [51], [53], [88]).
  • While the absence of a precise class of persons did not take the case out of article 14, it was a very powerful factor when looking at the question of justification (para, [54], [88]).
  • The Court took note of the “strategic aims’ of the government’s housing policy (to save public funds and to “shift the place of social security policy in society) (paras [20] and [65]) and the steps taken to increase Discretionary Housing Payments in order to address the needs of disabled persons facing difficulties because of the policy and how this was part of a policy of localism - to enable local authorities to make decisions at a local level about which cases should be prioritised for financial help (para [22]-[23]).
  • The Court concluded that the policy history showed that the Government had properly considered the prospective effects of the Housing Benefit cap imposed by Regulation B13, and such discrimination as had occurred had been justified by the explicit and stated policy objectives of the Government. In those circumstances the refusal of the Secretary of State to exclude some disabled persons from the changes introduced by the size criteria and the provision made by way of access to discretionary housing payments, constituted a proportionate approach to difficulties which those persons faced and applying the test for justification for Article 14 the measure could not be described as “manifestly without reasonable foundation” (paras [87]-[88]).
  • In relation to disabled children who are unable to share a bedroom as a result of their disability, the Court instructed that the legislation be amended to reflect the Court of Appeal’s decision in Gorry v SSWP [2012] EWCA Civ 629. (Click here for the judgment).

HB Bulletin U5/2013 (click here), published on 5 August 2013 states that the government will amend legislation in the autumn to allow extra housing benefit where children are unable to share a room due to their disabilities.

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