More than two million benefit claimants could be due £1,500 in back payments if the UK Government loses a legal case over whether it was fair to exclude people on legacy benefits from extra Covid support.
Earlier this year, the High Court granted two people claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) the right to challenge a decision not to increase their payments in line with the top-up given to those on Universal Credit.
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Universal Credit claimants were given an extra £1,040 a year in coronavirus cash support – the equivalent of £20 a week or £80 a month.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in the Spring Budget that this uplift would be extended until the end of September, meaning Universal Credit claimants will have received £1,560 in total when the boost comes to an end t the end of next week.
However, those on legacy benefits say they deserve a similar level of support to deal with the Covid crisis because they too have been hit by rising household costs.
Last month, Birmingham Live reported that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will face a court battle next week as lawyers representing the two claimants say all evidence has been submitted and that one person on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and another on Income Support have also joined the legal challenge.
William Ford, solicitor for the claimants has confirmed that a final hearing will be held on September 28 and 29.
Mr Ford told BirminghamLive : “The case centres on a claim of unlawful discrimination between two groups, those on Universal Credit and those on legacy benefits.
“If the court finds in favour of that and makes a declaration, the [UK] Government has to go away and then decide how to rectify that. But the court can’t tell the DWP what to do so we have to wait and see.”
He added: “The hope would be that the [UK] Government comes up with some sort of package of support for those on legacy benefits.
“This would likely be back payments if the UC [Universal Credit] uplift to standard allowance is not maintained beyond September. But if it ends up being maintained for far longer, we are saying an equivalent of legacy benefits’ personal allowance should be uplifted too.
“Everyone will have experienced hardship in the pandemic and the difference in treatment is not justified.”
Stephen Timms MP, chair of the committee, said at the time: “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.
“The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for Universal Credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits – including disabled people, carers and people with young families – have slipped down the list of priorities.”
He added: “It’s now time for the UK Government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too. It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit if they believe that they will be better off.”
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