Four vulnerable families have today issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, challenging the ‘benefit cap.’ The benefit cap policy has been imposed in four local authority areas since 15 April 2013 (including Haringey, where one of these families live) and will be rolled out across the country over the summer. All affected households across the country are due to be capped by 30 September 2013.
The policy involves the ‘capping’ of total household benefits payable to families who do not work sufficient hours to receive Working Tax Credits (usually 16 or 35 hours per week). The cap is set at £500 per week per household for couples or lone parents (it is £350 per week for single adults). The Government estimates that it will impact on 56,000 households in the first year alone. Benefits which are counted towards the calculation of the cap include housing benefit, child benefit, bereavement allowance, carer’s allowance, maternity allowance, severe disablement allowance and widow’s pension. The cap applies regardless of the number of children/ dependents in the family, and so larger families are particularly affected. Over 80% of households to be affected by the cap include three or more children, and children are nine times more likely to be affected than adults. The Government accepts that most of those who will be affected are women; approximately half of those who will be affected are disabled; and 40% are ethnic minorities who are likely to have larger family units.
The policy will have devastating effects on these four families. Two of the families will receive nil for basic subsistence (food, clothes, heating) as their rent exceeds the £500 per week cap. They will immediately fall into arrears, face eviction and street homelessness. Two of the families have fled domestic violence in circumstances where they were financially reliant upon their abusive partners, and they risk losing their homes and being unable to feed and clothe their children.
Rebekah Carrier, solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine, who acts for all of the Claimants said:
“This is a cruel and misguided policy. It will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. They face street homelessness and starvation.
A year ago the Children’s Commissioner warned the Government that these changes would result in a sharp increase in child poverty and homelessness, with a disproportionate impact upon disabled children and children of disabled parents, and some BME groups. The difficulties now faced by my clients were predictable and avoidable.
The reason for the policy is said to be to encourage people to obtain work but my clients face difficulties in securing employment because they are lone parents with caring responsibilities for babies and toddlers, and disabled adults who have already been recognised as unable to work due to their disabilities.”
These claims are supported by the charity Women’s Aid. They have submitted witness evidence in support of the claims, focusing upon the impact upon women and children who have fled domestic violence.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. Any queries should be directed to Rebekah Carrier, Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 020 7272 1234.
2. The four families are being represented by Rebekah Carrier, solicitor, Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, and barristers Ian Wise QC and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Doughty Street Chambers.
3. There are eight claimants – one parent and one child from each of the four families. As many of the claimants are children and two of the women are at risk from their abusive ex husbands their identities are protected and they are referred to by initials only.
4. The judicial review challenges Part 8A of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, which was inserted by the Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/2994, pursuant to section 96 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The claimants argue that the Regulations are discriminatory and unreasonable. They also argue that the Secretary of State did not take proper account of the impact of the policy on women, children, the disabled, racial and religious minorities, and carers when formulating the policy.