Legacy benefit claimants are still waiting to hear if a legal challenge over the £20 weekly uplift paid to millions of people on Universal Credit during coronavirus lockdowns has been successful in its application to appeal the ruling.
The legal team representing four legacy benefit claimants’ lost a High Court challenge in February and soon after, submitted an application to appeal the judge’s decision.
However, this was rejected but the fight for arrears payments of more than £1,500 is not over as the litigants’ solicitors then filed an application with the Court of Appeal seeking permission to appeal the judge’s ruling.
People on Universal Credit received a £20 weekly increase from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from April 2020 to October 2021 to help them pay for additional costs incurred during the global health crisis and subsequent lockdowns.
However, the uplift was not extended to more than two million people on older benefits such as Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – which campaign groups said disproportionately affected disabled people.
Four claimants brought a challenge to the High Court in November 2021 in relation to the UK Government’s failure to apply a similar increase to legacy benefits.
Two of the claimants are in receipt of ESA and the third and fourth claimants are in receipt of Income Support and JSA respectively.
The court accepted that there was a greater proportion of disabled persons in receipt of legacy benefits, compared to disabled people on Universal Credit, and that both groups of disabled claimants were in the same position.
But, while the court accepted that there was discrimination towards disabled people on legacy benefits, the judge ruled that the difference in treatment was justified.
The claimants were represented by William Ford of Osbornes Law, Jamie Burton QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Desmond Rutledge of Garden Court Chambers.
Commenting at the time on the ruling, William Ford QC, partner at Osbornes Law, said: “It is deeply unfair that those on so-called legacy benefits should be discriminated against in this way and we will look to see if we can continue to fight the [UK] Government on this issue to get our clients and everybody else on legacy benefits justice.”
Following the ruling, an application to appeal the decision was submitted, which was subsequently rejected.
However, when the application to appeal was submitted, Mr Ford QC explained at the time: “If the High Court refuse permission we can seek permission to appeal directly from the Court of Appeal.
“Please rest assured that we are doing everything we can to challenge the High Court judgment”.
What happens next?
If the Court of Appeal grants permission to appeal the decision then the case will be heard at the Court of Appeal.
If the Court of Appeal refuses permission, there is also the ability to ask for an oral hearing to reconsider the ruling.
Petition calling for backdated payments
A petition created shortly before the High Court ruling on February 18 calling for the £20 uplift payments to be backdated to all benefit claimants has received more than 23,926 signatures of support (at time of writing) and a response from the DWP.
The DWP responded: “The [UK] Government introduced a temporary £20 uplift to Universal Credit, to ensure that vital support was given to those facing the most financial disruption due to the pandemic.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the [UK] Government’s priority has been to protect lives and people’s livelihoods. This includes continually supporting individuals and businesses.”
The response goes on to say how the £20 increase to Universal Credit was a “temporary measure that ensured vital support was given to those facing the most financial disruption due to the pandemic”.
The DWP statement continues: “The decision not to include the £20 uplift in legacy benefits was recently unsuccessfully challenged in the High Court on the basis of discrimination, with the Court concluding the Regulations were justified in all circumstances.
“Universal Credit provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary uplift as part of a COVID support package, worth a total of £407 billion in 2020-21 and 2021-22.”
You can read the full response to the ‘Backpay the £20 covid uplift to people on Legacy Benefits’ petition here.
At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.