The High Court has granted permission to four lone parent families who challenge the reduced benefit cap, introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
In 2013 a ‘benefit cap’ was introduced to limit the total amount in benefits that “workless” working-age people can receive, even if their full entitlement to benefits would otherwise be higher. This was introduced by Regulations made under the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The benefit cap was set at £26,000 per annum (£500 per week) for all households other than those consisting of a single adult – i.e. this was the cap level for couples with no children, for couples with children, and for lone parents, regardless of the number of children in their family. The cap did not apply if the benefit claimant worked sufficient hours to obtain Working Tax Credit, i.e. 16 hours per week in the case of lone parents.
Recently, the cap has been lowered, with the new annual limit reduced to £20,000 per annum (£384.62 per week) for families (couples without children, couples with children, and lone parents) across England, Scotland and Wales, apart from Greater London where the limit is set at £23,000 for families (£442.31 per week). The revised scheme has been in force since 7 November 2016.
Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine acts for four lone parent families for whom the reduced benefit cap has, or will have, severe effects. They are lone parents with children under the age of two, and their dependent children, and a lone parent who is heavily pregnant. The Secretary of State recognises that lone parents of very young children under two should not be expected to work, and free childcare for low income families starts only when children reach the age of two. However, no exemption to the benefit cap has been made for this group. This is despite there being numerous exemptions to the cap which recognise the difficulties faced by some groups in securing minimum 16 hours work per week, and the particular vulnerabilities of other groups. The Claimants contend that the Secretary of State’s failure to exempt them from the benefit cap has a profound impact upon them and others in a similar position, and is discriminatory and unlawful.
This week, the High Court has rejected the Secretary of State’s submissions that the claim should be halted. Instead, Mr Justice Morris has ruled that the claim has a “realistic prospect of success” and that it must be heard urgently. The full hearing will take place in May 2017.