Let’s answer the question in the headline straight away: it seems 85,000 people may be able to claim compensation because the government deliberately failed to stop people getting less Universal Credit if their payday comes early because of a weekend or bank holiday.
Judges at the Court of Appeal have ruled that it was “irrational” for the Department for Work and Pensions – and the Secretary of State in particular – to ignore the fact that computer systems would assume that claimant had received double the money expected and cancel their payments.
The Conservative government has spent two years fighting this court case – indicating that, despite being well aware of the issue, Tories were determined to continue depriving some of the poorest workers in the UK of vital benefits.
Are they sadists? Or perverts?
Certainly perverts, it seems. In her judgment, Lady Justice Rose described the situation as “perverse”.
But decide for yourself.
The three judges at the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the Work and Pensions Secretary acted irrationally and unlawfully by making Universal Credit regulations which fail to take into account that the date monthly salaries are paid can vary because of weekends and bank holidays.
Government loses its test case appeal against 4 working mothers re how Universal Credit treats their earned income.
— Tom Royston (@tdroyston) June 22, 2020
The Government had taken the case to the Court of Appeal after single mother Danielle Johnson, along with three other mothers supported by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), won a High Court legal challenge.
They said the Government’s interpretation of regulation 54 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 meant some months she would receive much less in universal credit than in others.
Ms Johnson is paid on the last working day of each month and her benefit assessment period runs from the last day of the month to the penultimate day of the following month. When a weekend is at the end of a month, this means her wages go into her bank account earlier than in other months.
The Universal Credit computer system interpreted this as Ms Johnson having earned twice as much in one month and none in others, so her payment would be calculated accordingly.
It resulted in extreme fluctuations in her income and – in several months – she lost the work allowance part of the UC payment, meaning she was around £500 per year worse off.
If 85,000 people lost the same amount, that means the government was stopping them from receiving £42.5 million a year – not a lot in terms of a national government’s budget.
So why did the Tories create a system that forced this hardship on vulnerable women (among others)?
Why spend more money defending this irrational persecution of vulnerable women?
We can only conclude that this is yet more evidence that the Tories simply enjoy making poor people suffer.
And it worked: Ms Johnson suffered severe cash flow problems and between them, the four mothers fell into rent arrears, defaulted on council tax, incurred bank overdraft charges, borrowed money and even become reliant on food banks to make ends meet.
Lady Justice Rose commented that Ms Johnson “expresses her doubts whether she will ever be able to get back on top of her finances and worries that cash flow problems will mean she is unable to pay her rent, jeopardising her tenancy”.
We should also discuss the Tory government’s defence, which seems to be that changing the system would cost too much. It’s always about money with this mob, isn’t it?
So the court was told that any change to the computer system would cost at least £7.35 million – a fraction of what the government has saved each year by withholding money from 85,000 claimants.
And the Tories said there would need to be a wholesale move away from automation back to manual calculation in order to accommodate the changes demanded by the judges.
This would be an admission that the whole Universal Credit project – that was intended to be “digital by default” – is a failure.
And it’s doubtful that there’s any truth in the claim. Computer programs can be quite adaptable – or at least, they can in the hands of people who don’t have an agenda that involves the persecution of the vulnerable.
Of course the question arising from this is: what happens next?
Will the government automatically calculate the back payments owed to many tens of thousands of UC claimants and pay them?
I think we all know the answer to that!
Will the Tories change the law to ensure that this situation is not allowed to arise in the future?
Or will they try to find another way to contest the ruling? Delay any payments resulting from it? Otherwise try to ignore the decision of the court?
What do you think?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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