Carers win high court ruling over “unlawful” and “discriminatory” benefit cap

Ian Duncan Smith Pic: Wikicommons

Ian Duncan Smith criticised for welfare cap, introduced in 2012 
Pic: Wikicommons

A High Court judge has ruled that the Government’s welfare cap for two carers in Croydon and Tower Hamlets is “indirect discrimination” and “unlawful”.

The two successful claimants Ashley Hurley from Croydon and Lee Palmer from Tower Hamlets, had been prevented from receiving a weekly carers’ allowance of £62.10 which contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

The welfare cap, brought in by Ian Duncan Smith in 2012, limits single homes to a total of £350 a week and £500 a week for parents or partners. In this case the cap meant the carers could not receive their entitled allowance, given to those providing at least 35 hours of care a week.

Mr Justice Collins said the failure to exempt carers amounted to “objectively unjustifiable indirect discrimination” and is not lawful.

Twenty-six-year-old Hurley and her grandmother were said to be victims of unlawful discrimination by the Government, contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The impact of the welfare cap was a “nightmare” for Hurley, a single mother with four children. She was evicted from her home in October last year after her allowance was included in the weekly benefits limit. Hurley and her children were forced to move into one of her grandmother’s rooms in Peckham.  The judge described the conditions as “intolerable”.

Hurley said: “Because of the cap I can’t afford my own place. Me and the kids all sleep in a bed in one room. It is a nightmare.”

The judge said the aim of the cap was to incentivise work and set a reasonable limit that a household could receive in welfare. Hurley’s lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, told the court it was unreasonable to apply a cap aimed at workless families to persons caring full-time.

Anyone receiving carer’s allowance is not available to work sufficient hours to avoid the cap while they receive it, because they must be providing unpaid care on a full-time basis. Hurley said: “From the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed I am caring for nan.”

Palmer was said to often provide “considerably more” than 35 hours a week of care, and had his own mental health problems along with severe dyslexia. Government lawyers argued that the recent reduction of his benefits was only £11 per week and could be paid by his grandmother.

The judge said: “Those responsible for the benefit cap must realise that there are indeed those whose circumstances are such that even relatively small sums can tip them into destitution.” If Palmer was unable to care for his grandmother the added responsibility to the state would far exceed £11. “The evidence has established [the cap] is not achieving the saving of public funds. Indeed, on the contrary, the evidence is that it has forced a number of carers to give up caring.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The Government values the important role of carers in society – and 98% are unaffected by the cap. We are considering the judgment and will respond in due course.”

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