Danielle Johnson, a dinner lady from Keighley, West Yorkshire, and three other single mums in waged work, have won their legal challenge against Universal Credit (UC) fluctuating payments. A court hearing about what redress and compensation they will receive, is expected in February.
Families, especially mothers in waged work, who rely on UC to top up low earnings, suffer terribly from UC: from the waiting time for first payment, fluctuating payments, the assumed earnings “minimum income floor” for self-employed people, sanctions for working “only part-time”, and other problems.
The mums and their children were hit, as the mums’ monthly wages and Universal Credit claim months didn’t match. So they might get two salary payments each end of the month, and not qualify for any UC, driving them into debt and “having to choose between paying their rent or paying their childcare costs”, and not being able to pay their monthly gas and electricity. One of the mums was made suicidal by the money worries and bills to pay. They also lost around £500 a year in top-up of low wages with working allowance.
We attended the court case to support the challenge. In court, the government’s barrister argued that it was too expensive to fix the inflexible computer system, just for the sake of the 1% of UC claimants affected. But “only” 1% is about 85,000 claimants, and the government didn’t care to count the children involved, just the claimants. The government’s barrister said that they had considered having individual decision-maker staff, but “automation was the only way to manage 8.5 million claimants“, the number they eventually want to push onto UC. One of the judges, Mr Justice Lewis, commented that the computer system should fit the claimant, not the other way around.
On 11 January, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Lewis ruled that the DWP had been wrongly interpreting the universal credit regulations. They said in their judgment that treating claimants as having earned twice as much as they do if they happen to receive two pay cheques in one monthly assessment period, and as having no earnings in the next assessment period is “odd in the extreme” and “…. could be said to lead to nonsensical situations”.
Tessa Gregory, Danielle Johnson’s solicitor said: “It is extraordinary that when this issue was first raised, the Secretary of State did not act quickly to remedy the problem, instead choosing to fight these four women in court arguing that the system was fit for purpose despite the hardship being caused to working families. This is yet another demonstration of how broken Universal Credit is and why its roll out must be stopped.
In light of the judgment, Amber Rudd must take immediate steps to ensure that no other claimants are adversely affected and she should also ensure all those who have suffered because of this unlawful conduct are swiftly and fairly compensated.”
Read the Leigh Day press release here.