Conservative Party Conference signals further cuts to welfare spending
In a speech at the Conservative Party conference on 29 September 2014 Chancellor George Osborne said that there would be further cuts to welfare spending if the Conservatives were elected in 2015. In particular, they would freeze working age benefits for two years, with exceptions for pensioner and disability benefits. The Chancellor said: The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than the wages of the taxpayers who are paying for them”
Prime Minster David Cameron gave details of reforms for young people on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on 28 September. These include:
- unemployed 18 to 21 year olds would be given six months to find work or training after which their jobseeker's allowance (JSA) payments would be withdrawn unless they agreed to take part in 'community projects';
- most unemployed 18 to 21 year olds would be prevented from claiming housing benefit in order to leave home, with exceptions for those with children or leaving care; and
Details of Mr Cameron's interview on the Andrew Marr show are available from the BBC website and Mr Osborne's speech to the Conservative Party Conference is available from conservatives.com
Legal Aid Agency Figures for Welfare Benefits
According to the 'Legal Aid Statistics in England and Wales, Legal Aid Agency, 2013/2014', published by the MoJ on 25 September 2014, the figures for civil legal aid workload (which is a combination of legal help matters started and civil representation certificates granted), showed that the welfare benefits workload for 2013/2014 was 149, a drop from 88,380 the year before. Of the 11 applications for Exceptional Case Funding for welfare benefits cases made, none were granted.
The Legal Aid Statistics for 2013/2014 are available from gov.uk
DWP Figures for Personal Independence Payment Awards
DWP statistics published on 17 September 1014 show that 79 per cent of disability living allowance (DLA) reassessments led to a personal independence payment (PIP) award in the period up to July 2014.
The Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics are available from gov.uk
Joseph Rowntree Foundation on benefit sanctions
In a report dated 11 September 2014 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that benefit sanctions are disproportionately affecting particular groups, including young people under 25, homeless people and other vulnerable groups, and also that conditionality can have unintended consequences, including distancing people from support; causing hardship and destitution; displacing rather than resolving issues such as street homelessness and anti-social behaviour; and negative impacts on 'third parties, particularly children.
For more information see Welfare sanctions and conditionality in the UK from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website.
DWP publishes new work capability assessment statistics
According to figures published by the DWP on 11 September 2014, almost three quarters of decided employment and support allowance (ESA) claims are successful, and almost a third of appeals are allowed.
For more information. see ESA: outcomes of Work Capability Assessments September 2014 from gov.uk
86 per cent reduction in welfare benefit appeals
According to statistics produced by MoJ there was an 86 per cent reduction in welfare benefit appeals between April and June 2014 compared with the same period last year. Highlighting also that the number of appeals received against DWP decisions was down 30 per cent on the previous quarter, the new statistical release notes that -
'This could be due to a number of reasons including the introduction of mandatory reconsideration across DWP benefits - where a DWP decision-maker looks again at individual cases before it goes to a tribunal - alongside wider reforms to streamline the system ...'
NB:From April 2013, DWP began to introduce changes which were part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. There were three main changes:DWP will reconsider all decisions before an appeal can be lodged (known as mandatory reconsideration); appeals must be sent directly to HMCTS (known as direct lodgement); there are time limits for DWP to return its responses to HMCTS/ These changes were introduced for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Universal Credit (UC) in April 2013. On the 28th October 2013 these were extended to all other DWP-administered benefits and child maintenance cases, and from April 2014 to appeals made against HMRC decisions about tax credits.
For more information, see Tribunal statistics quarterly: April to June 2014 from gov.uk
The European Commission issues legal challenge to UK right to reside test for child benefit and child tax credit
The European Commission has made a reference to the Court of Justice in European Commission v United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Case C-308/14) in which it has asked the CJEU to declare that the UK by imposing a right to reside test for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit that it is in breach of the UK government's obligations under Regulation 883/2004. According to the announcement published to the Curia website:
'The Commission maintains that, in requiring a claimant of child benefit and child tax credit to have a right to reside in the UK as a condition of being treated as resident there, the UK has imposed a condition that Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 does not permit.
Alternatively the Commission submits that by imposing a condition of entitlement to social security benefits that is automatically met by its own nationals the UK has created a situation of direct discrimination against nationals of other Member States and thus breached article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 883/2004.'
The European Commission action against the UK government is available from the Curia website.
Case law on the Bedroom Tax.
The DWP has issued new guidance to local authorities - HB Bulletin U4/2014 -notifying them of a number of bedroom tax decisions that have been heard by the Upper Tribunal in Scotland but which are not yet available on-line, in which the Secretary of State’s appeals were allowed.
- CSH/188/2014 - this case relates to a couple living in a two bedroom property who argued that due to his wife’s disabilities her husband required a bedroom of his own which the First-tier Tribunal had accepted. The Judge followed R (on the application of) MA & Others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (MA & Others) and upheld the Secretary of State's appeal that they were not entitled to two bedrooms;
- CSH/372/2014 and CSH/374/2014 - these cases both related to a single claimant who argued that the legislation was discriminatory on the grounds of disability in terms of the Equality Act 2010. The First-tier Tribunal had found that the under-occupation reduction in housing benefit was correct and the Upper Tribunal confirmed this again following MA & Others;
- CSH/589/2014 - this case relates to a single claimant where the First-tier Tribunal accepted the claimant’s argument that the third bedroom in her house was used as an extension to her own room as due to her disability she required extra space to get dressed and also to store medication and medical notes in a locked cupboard. The Upper Tribunal found that the FIrst-tier Tribunal had erred by not applying the correct test for justification of discrimination in a case relating to the payment of state benefits and that MA & Others’ had not been followed; and
- CSH/377/2013 - this case relates to a single claimant whose son stayed with him for three nights per week but lived with his mother the rest of the time. The claimant relied on the argument that Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights (Protection of Home and Family Life) obliged the local authority to apply regulation 20 of the Housing Benefit regulations so as to treat him as responsible for his son with the result that there should not be an under-occupancy reduction. The First-tier Tribunal refused the claimant's appeal and the Upper Tribunal found that, taking into account that discretionary housing payments were meeting the shortfall, there was no interference of any gravity with the claimant’s Article 8 right or that of his son.