High Court orders urgent hearing of challenge to reduced benefit cap

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.

Published On: 24/02/2017|
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