A terminally ill man has won the right to launch a landmark legal challenge to the government over its introduction of universal credit after the controversial new benefits system left him significantly worse off.
The 52-year-old, known only as TP, a Cambridge graduate who once worked in the City, has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the rare lymph node condition Castleman disease. Following a successful hearing last week, a full judicial review of his claim will take place next month, the first high court challenge of its kind.
The outcome could have consequences for thousands of other disabled people who claim that they are now experiencing financial hardship as a result of having had their benefits restricted under universal credit.
“I am proceeding with the judicial review for my own personal financial situation during this very difficult time of illness, but also because it is quite wrong of the government to remove by stealth and without prior warning on a transition into universal credit a much-needed benefit for people trying to cope alone at home with a substantial disability,” TP told the Observer. “This includes the most very vulnerable of society. It piles on a financial burden at a time when these people are most in need of assistance to continue their day-to-day lives as best they can.”
TP became terminally ill in 2016 and received the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP), which were set up to meet the needs of severely disabled people living alone without carers.
Following the introduction of universal credit (UC), both benefits for TP were removed, despite a government pledge that no one with a severe disability would be financially worse off. According to the charity Disability Rights UK, the abolition of SDP will cost disabled adults with no one to care for them, or with only a young carer, about £62.45 per week, or £3,247.40 a year. The abolition of EDP will cost them £15.90 per week or £826.80 a year.
Following his diagnosis, TP’s doctors recommended that he move to London to receive treatment. His return to the capital, a universal credit full-service area, led to a reduction in his benefits which, say his lawyers, has resulted in their client being £178 a month worse off. They contend that the government’s decision to introduce the single benefit, while removing his disability benefits, has left TP in financial difficulties, which have had a major impact on him at a time of extreme ill health and stress.
Tessa Gregory from the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing TP, said David Gauke, the former work and pensions secretary, had made repeated commitments to protect existing benefit levels with “top-up payments” for claimants moving to UC. Gauke had pledged: “No one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same.” But both the work and pensions select committee and the House of Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee have concerns that disabled people could miss out on benefits, with no top-up payments planned until July 2019. “We believe that by taking away these essential benefits for some of the most vulnerable people in society, the government has acted unlawfully,” Gregory said.
A DWP spokeswoman said that it was unable to comment on the specifics of the case while the review was under way. She added: “We are committed to supporting people into work while making sure the right care is in place for those that cannot. Unlike the previous system, universal credit is more targeted and support is focused on those who need it most. Transitional protection is also available for those people who move on to UC from other benefits, provided their circumstances stay the same.”