Section: Welfare Benefits

High Court rules DWP's universal credit deductions policy unlawful

Posted 17.03.21
Shelter: Further reading

Background

In December 2019, a report by Shelter revealed that people who had just got off the streets and into a settled home were facing massive 'deductions' in their Universal Credit.

People who had recently moved into settled accommodation after years of living on the streets had been hit with high level deductions to their universal credit personal allowance for court fine payments - including fines for begging under the Vagrancy Act 1824.

It came to light that this was not a one-off case of incorrect decision-making where claimants had requested deductions be lowered, as the law allows, and refused - but that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has a blanket policy of always cutting benefit by the maximum amount possible.

This policy was exercised regardless of personal circumstances and as a consequence, has left people struggling to cover essential living costs, including food and bills.

In February 2020, Shelter launched a legal challenge on behalf of four people, all of whom have a long history of rough sleeping, and were affected by these 'maximum deductions'.

It challenged the deductions policy and decisions to apply the 'maximum deduction rate' to Universal Credit in all cases where there is a court fine payment, regardless of the claimant's personal circumstances.

Court Decision

The High Court found that DWP's deductions policy was unlawful because it 'fetters discretion', in that it prevents decision makers from taking a UC claimant's personal circumstances into account when setting the deduction rate.

The court ruled that by setting a fixed rate for deductions from UC for fines, and the DWP's inflexible approach in making decisions on these cases, removes the discretion provided for in the relevant legislation - and that this is unlawful.

Use the link to access the full judgement - R (Blundell & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

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Reporting on March 2021

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