2014 10 Welfare Benefits

Saturday 1 November 2014

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On 22 October 2014 the DWP issued new guidance (DMG 27/14 and ADM 21/14) on the length of time before a repeat work capability assessment (WCA) should be applied following a successful appeal by a claimant based on the recommendations in Dr Litchfield's year 4 review. The guidance states that decision makers should, unless there are circumstances which indicate otherwise, use a minimum period of eight months as the point when the claimant should undertake a subsequent WCA following a successful appeal, which means that recall notices should be issued after six months inviting claimants to attend a WCA. DMG 27/14 and ADM 21/14 are available from gov.uk

In a letter from the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee dated 9 October 2014 written to Esther McVey, Minister for Employment, says it believes the sanctioning regime does not help claimants of jobseeker's allowance (JSA) find paid employment and queries whether there is any evidence to support such a link. The letter also highlights what the Committee believes is a failure to make those who are sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments, resulting in few claimants receiving payments. It notes that Neil Couling, then Work Services Director for the DWP, declined to provide information requested by the Committee on the proportion of individuals who received a sanction that went on to claim a hardship payment as he could not do so 'without incurring a disproportionate cost'. Without this information the Committee concludes that it is difficult to assert that hardship payments are playing any significant role in alleviating hardship. The Welfare Reform Committee's report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the response from Esther McVey, and the letter to Esther McVey from Michael McMahon are available at Benefit sanctions from scottish.parliament.uk

According to media reports’ an inquiry into how the benefit sanctions regime is administered is due to be mounted by the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee, some time before the election. See the Guardian 23 October 2014: ‘Benefit sanctions regime for unemployed to be investigated by MPs’:- Department for Work and Pensions select committee inquiry follows death of ex-soldier after jobseeker’s allowance stopped (Click here).

For further commentary on sanctions, see Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog dated 24 October 2014: Benefit sanctions and absurdity: will public attitudes change? - The miserable and costly consequences of absurd and unfair welfare sanctions cases are increasingly becoming, like Atos fit-for-work tests, a staple of local and national press reports (Click here).

A Common Library Standard Note entitled ‘Can private landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants?’ was published 29 October 2014. The note considers evidence on why landlords might refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants and the extent of the problem. (Click here).

According to a BBC report published on 30 October 2014, ministers are considering cutting the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance (ESA) to just 50p,. Internal documents, seen by the BBC, suggest that ministers are considering giving new claimants of ESA, who are placed in the work-related activity group, the basic allowance - equivalent to jobseeker's allowance (JSA) - plus an additional amount of just 50p instead of the current work-related activity component of £28.75. For more information see ‘Cuts to employment and support allowance 'considered'’ from the BBC website (Click here).

Cases

In R (Cotton & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors [2014] EWHC 3437 (Admin), (Males J) Court has dismissed a challenge to the bedroom tax by parents with shared care of their children, which was brought with the help of Liberty. Males J held that a short answer to the claim was that, as a result of the discretionary housing payments (DHPs) received by each of the claimants, which had completely compensated for the reduction in housing benefit paid to them, none of the claimants had suffered any interference with their family life capable of amounting to a breach of article 8. The Court, however, when on to hold that even if reduction in housing benefit meant that claimants had to move to smaller accommodation where children could no longer live with them, that would not, in itself, be a breach of right to family life. Where there are cases of particular hardship Males J said: that the local authority should make DHPs available, to prevent a breach of article 8.

“, there may be cases of particular hardship over and above the reduction in family life which that situation necessarily involves and that such cases of particular hardship may on appropriate facts pass over the high threshold required to amount to an interference with article 8 rights. In that event, I accept that local authorities would be required to consider applications for DHPs so that if in a particular case a reduction in housing benefit did threaten to infringe Convention rights, the relevant local authority would have a duty to consider awarding a DHP to avoid that infringement.” (para 55(iii))

Click here for judgment.

On 29 October 2014 the DWP has issued new guidance on the decision in R (Cotton) v SSWP. The DWP also says that local authorities should ensure that this decision is quoted when appealing against adverse tribunal decisions that raise similar issues and, finally, advises that they retain the responsibility for deciding whether, in cases where a claimant faces a shortfall in their rent, a DHP is appropriate and for what period. HB Bulletin U5/2014 is available here.

In R (Moseley (in substitution of Stirling Deceased)) v London Borough of Haringey [2014] UKSC 56, (Lady Hale and Lords Kerr, Clarke, Wilson and Reed))the Supreme Court ruled that Haringey’s consultation on its draft scheme (which was required by Schedule 1A of the Welfare Reform Act 2012) was unfair because the consultees had not been provided with sufficient information to enable them to appreciate that there were alternatives to the draft scheme which was being proposed. However, the Court decided that it would not be proportionate to require local authority to hold a fresh consultation. Click here for judgment.

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