Millions of benefits claimants could be in line for a windfall worth hundreds of pounds depending on the results of a court case involving the Department for Work and Pensions.
It may mean that 2.4 people could get paid back £1,560 from the Government.
The argument is that the bonus given to Universal Credit claimants during the coronavirus pandemic was ‘unfair’ to those on other DWP benefits.
People on Universal Credit saw their standard allowance go up around £20 a week, some £86 a month, for a period of 18 months before the ‘uplift’ scheme ended, reports Birmingham Live.
People on some other state benefits feel entitled to the same top-up, saying that excluding them was unlawful discrimination.
But which benefits would qualify to get the bonus?
The legacy benefits involved in the court case are:
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
These are three of the old legacy benefits that will eventually be replaced by Universal Credit.
Two disabled people on ESA launched the original legal challenge, and were subsequently joined by claimants on Income Support and JSA.
Osborne’s Law, representing the claimants, says they argue “the failure to extend the uplift to those on ESA unlawfully discriminated against them as disabled people contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.”
It added: “The claimants argue that it has become increasingly untenable for those claimants on legacy benefits to be treated differently from those on UC as they all face the same consequences of the pandemic.
“To continue to exclude those from legacy benefit from the uplift is risking the establishment of a two-tier social security system.”
Disabled people and campaigners gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice last November in support of the case.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a network of over 100 organisations including Z2K, the MS Society, MND Association, and Leonard Cheshire – held a rally to demand justice for those who were denied extra support.
Lynn Pinfield, 51, from West Lothian, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2018 and is unable to work as a result of her condition.
She claims ESA, so was denied the £20 lifeline given to UC claimants.
In a statement ahead of the hearing, she said: “I absolutely think this is a case of discrimination against disabled people, and the High Court should find it unlawful.
“Everyone on benefits should be treated equally. They have made me feel like disabled people don’t matter.
“During the pandemic, prices were steadily increasing but benefits remained the same, which was a struggle.
“With everyone at home all the time, our bills soared – our electricity bill doubled – and I’ve had to pay it all myself with no extra support.”
Anastasia Berry, of the DBC and MS Society, said: “MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and many with the condition rely on benefits such as ESA as they are unable to work.
“It is utterly disgraceful that at the height of the pandemic, when disabled people needed help the most, the Government turned their backs.
“Not only was this decision cruel, but it is clear that denying one group of people extra financial support is discriminatory and creates a two-tier social security system.
“That’s why we are demanding justice for those who were discriminated against, and are calling for people on legacy benefits to receive a back-dated payment of the equivalent amount given to those on Universal Credit.”
Ella Abraham, of Z2K and the DBC, said: “For the last 18 months millions of disabled people, single parents and others on legacy benefits have been discriminated against and struggled to put food on the table without the £20 a week increase those on Universal Credit received.
“We want to see back-dated payments for all those on legacy benefits who struggled to pay for essentials during the pandemic.”
Ellen Clifford, on behalf of DPAC, said: “The Government’s failure to apply the £20 uplift to disabled people on legacy benefits was nothing short of discrimination.
“In so doing they chose to disregard the fact that disabled people’s unavoidable expenditure went up the most as a direct consequence of the pandemic.
“In the sixth richest country in the world no one should be left too poor to bathe, too poor to do their laundry, too poor to eat and to heat.”
Lawyers representing the claimants at the hearing issued an update in December saying: “Judgment is awaited in the case. It is not unusual that in a case of this type and importance for many hundreds of thousands of people that judgment takes some time.
“Please be assured that as soon as judgment is handed down it will be communicated. In the meantime, please bear with us.”
One disgruntled claimant awaiting news of the court ruling said: “Three months to say yes or no is disgraceful.”
Another issued a message to Boris Johnson, saying: “While you were all partying, we were isolated, completely alone and wondering how we were ever going to manage. Have a heart.”
They added: “This is becoming a desperate situation for many disabled people and with the rising costs of food and bills many disabled people have done everything to keep their heads above water.
“We are now drowning in debt and are having to choose between eating or heating homes, we are now below the poverty line. Do the right thing and pay back the money that Universal Credit got, it would go a long way to just helping keep us afloat with the bills.
“Maybe even putting up disabled people’s fortnightly money to match the rise in the cost of living would be a massive help.”