Measures to limit migrants’ access to benefits - Commons Library Standard Note SN06889 click here was pubished on 15 May 2014.
Following an article by the Prime Minister’s in the Financial Times on 27 November 2013 in which he said he shared concerns about the impact of lifting transitional restrictions on the right of Romanian and Bulgarian right to work in the UK from 1 January 2014, the Government has introduced a raft of measures “to tighten up our EEA migration rules to ensure our welfare system is not taken advantage of.” They include:
• From December 2013, a “stronger, more robust” Habitual Residence Test for those claiming means-tested benefits;
• From 1 January 2014, people coming to the UK must have been living in the UK for three months before they can claim income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
• EEA jobseeker’s or former workers will have to show that they have a “genuine prospect of finding work” to continue to get JSA after six months (and if applicable, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit);
• From 1 March 2014, a new minimum earnings threshold to help determine whether an EEA national is or was in “genuine and effective” work, and so has a “right to reside” as a worker or self-employed person (and with it, entitlement to benefits); and
• From 1 April 2014 new EEA jobseekers have been prevented from accessing Housing Benefits even if they are in receipt of JSA.
In addition, on 8 April the Government announced that, from 1 July 2014, new jobseekers arriving in the UK will need to live in the country for three months in order to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. It was also announced that the routine use of interpretation services for most new JSA claimants would end from 9 April, and that from 28 April JSA claimants whose spoken English was found to be a barrier to work would be expected to undertake training to improve their language skills.
This note looks at the background to the changes, and at their likely impact.
According to new figures published by the DWP on 13 May 2014 on both ESA and JSA sanctions:
- since 3 December 2012, when the new ESA sanctions regime was introduced , there has been a steady increase in the number of adverse sanctions decisions made from 1,102 in December 2012 to 4,789 in December 2013.
- During 2013 870,793 sanctions were applied to JSA sanctions, an increase from 804,866 during 2012, and from 650,577 during 2011.
The DWP statistical release 'Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance Sanctions: decisions made to December 2013' is available from gov.uk – click here.
According to figures published by the DWP on 14 May 2014, a total of 40,400 sanctions were imposed on income support lone parent claimants in the 12 months period up to December 2013, representing 5.6 per cent of the income support lone parent client base in that period. The Income Support Lone Parents Regime: Official Statistics are available from gov.uk - click here.
Survey of GP surgeries
According to a survey was undertaken by Citizens Advice Bureaux based on 173 responses from GP surgeries published on 14 May 2014, 50 per cent of GP surgeries charged for providing patients with medical evidence for ESA appeals and 15 per cent turn down requests from all patients for evidence. For the Citizens Advice press release – click here
Child Poverty .'
In a new report, 'A Fair Start for Every Child', published on 28 May 2014, Save the Children estimates that despite a cross party commitment to end child poverty by 2020 the numbers living in poverty could increase by 1.4m in that period - a rise of 41 per cent on the 3.5m children currently living in poverty - due to the 'tripple whammy' of years of flat wages, cuts to benefits and the rising cost of living. A Fair Start for Every Child is available from the Save the Children website – click here.
According to research from the National Housing Federation published on 28 May 2013, 23 per cent of people affected by bedroom tax in London have cut back on food and 19 per cent have cut back on heating. The research also found that 46 per cent have had to borrow money to help pay their rent. For more information click here for Bedroom tax pushes London households into debt and fear of eviction.
Proposal to increase waiting period from three to seven
On 24 May 2014 the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) issued a consultation (click here) on the government's intention to extend the number of days a claimant must wait before they are entitled to receive jobseeker's allowance (JSA) or employment and support allowance (ESA) from three to seven. The DWP has estimated that, as a result of this proposal, the average loss of benefit at the start of each award will be £40 for JSA claimants and £50 for ESA claimants. The SSAC noted that benefits are now being paid fortnightly in arrears and that it is important that the full impact of the change if understood.
The Bedroom Tax
New DWP statistics show that 16.6 per cent of housing benefit claimants in the social sector were affected by the bedroom tax in February 2014 and that there is a wide regional variation in average housing benefit reduction, from £20.06 in London to £11.25 in Scotland. The bedroom tax statistics can be found in table 3 of the DWP's excel spreadsheet Housing Benefit Caseload Statistics - February 2014 – click here.
Number of people in work and claiming housing benefit up by 59 per cent
According to figures compiled by the House of Commons Library, the number of people in work and claiming housing benefit (HB) has gone up by 59 per cent since the Coalition came to power. The number of HB claimants in work rose from 650,561 in May 2010 to 1.03 million by the end of 2013. The cost of the extra claims is estimated to be £4.8 billion by May 2015. The areas with the biggest increase in claimants by working families include Croydon (up by 1,100 per cent); Fareham (883 per cent); Uttlesford (840 per cent) and Boston (103 per cent). For more information, see So-called 'in-work poverty' soars by 59% under Coalition as more people with jobs are forced to claim housing benefit on the Independent website – click here.
In SC v East Riding of Yorkshire Council  EW Misc B46 (VT) (the President, Professor Graham Zellick QC) the President of the Valuation Tribunal confirmed that the tribunal has unlimited powers to overturn decisions on discretionary council tax payments. The tribunal was considering the cases of 'Mr and Mrs C' and 'Mr and Mrs W', both of whom had a residual amount of council tax to pay after they had received the maximum council tax reduction from their local authority. In both cases, the local authority had refused them additional discretionary relief - as provided for by section 13A(1)(c) of theLocal Government Finance Act 1992. Both couples then appealed to the Valuation Tribunal. The President confirmed that there is a right of appeal against decisions on discretionary relief and that the Valuation Tribunal has unlimited powers to overturn decisions on discretionary council tax payments and the Tribunal could substitute its view for that of the authority (para 24). This was different to the President’s previous view that if any illegality was found, the matter should be remitted to the billing authority to be reconsidered. The President went on to set out detailed guidance on the approach to be taken on appeals on discretionary relief at para 25, including that –
- The authority's decision does not have to be unreasonable in the Wednesbury sense before it can be set aside, but the Tribunal should intervene only where there are strong grounds for doing so.
- Procedural defects may recede in importance, or be completely effaced, since the Tribunal will be chiefly concerned with the actual merits of the decision. Earlier defects in process may therefore be cured or superseded by the appeal, and a decision may be adjudged correct despite defects in process.
- Compliance with a formal published policy or scheme, if there is one, cannot preclude the Tribunal from allowing an appeal.
- A factor which cannot have any relevance for the Tribunal is an overall budget created by the authority for the totality of discretionary applications in a given year.
The President dismissed 'Mr and Mrs C’s' appeal on the grounds that they have a small surplus of income with which to pay the residual council tax. However, he decided that 'Mr and Mrs W', who have a shortfall in income to meet their outgoings, are entitled to full remission of the residual council tax for the year. Click here for the judgment.