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Single mums challenge Universal Credit disaster

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single ums, challenge, univversal credit working allowance, assessment day, High Court, London, 27 NovemberClaimants are unable to change the dates of their work allowance assessment period.

Four single mums are in court this week to challenge the government over the Universal Credit (UC) payment system which is inflexible and doesn’t reflect reality.

Danielle Johnson, 25, is a single mum who works part-time as a dinner lady and receives Universal Credit to top up her income.

But the rigid Universal Credit ‘assessment period’ causes wildly fluctuating benefit and debt.

She is challenging the government via judicial review along with three other women in a similar situation.

Their cases are due to be heard together in the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice building in London on 27 and 28 November 2018.

Johnson, like many employees, is paid on the last working day of the month.

However, her monthly Universal Credit assessment periods are rigid – running from the last day of each month, meaning that if she is paid before the last day of the month, because payment falls on a weekend or non-banking day, she is assessed as having been paid twice that month, and not at all the next month. And she could be subject to the benefit cap.

This has resulted in her receiving fluctuating Universal Credit payments throughout the year making it very hard to budget from one month to the next.

It has also caused her to be around £500 worse off annually due to the fact that she is entitled to ‘work allowance’ as a parent.

The work allowance is a disregard of £198 per month of a parent’s monthly earnings so in months where she is treated as having no earned income, she loses the whole benefit of the work allowance. In months where she is treated as having double income, she does not receive any extra work allowance.

And claimants are unable to change their assessment period dates.

As well as arguing that the Universal Credit payment system is irrational, and that the issues with varying pay dates could have been easily solved if properly considered, Danielle will also argue that the system is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects single parents, who are mainly female.

Danielle Johnson said: “I have never been this financially unstable before, to the point of being unable to afford my rent and having to go into my overdraft when buying food.

“It is getting me into a vicious cycle of debt.

“Universal Credit is supposed to be simpler and fairer, but my experience of it is the opposite.

“I’m doing my best working part-time to make ends meet so that I can look after my daughter. I thought the government was supposed to help and support people like me trying to get back to work but I have found it to be the opposite.”

Danielle is being represented by Leigh Day and the other three women are represented by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day, added: “It is very clear through the multitude of problems reported that Universal Credit is a broken and ill-thought out system.

“Universal Credit is supposed to “make work pay”.

“It was purportedly designed to assist those in work being paid on a regular monthly basis, yet flaws in the system mean that our client, who has a regular monthly salary paid like many on the last working day of the month, is struggling to support her family.

“She has been left wondering why she ever went back to work, it is an absurd situation.

“Our client has repeatedly asked the government to address this problem, but they have refused to take action, so our client has been forced to take her case to court.

“It is important that this issue gets addressed as soon as possible as once Universal Credit rolls out fully the numbers affected will run into the tens of thousands if not more.”

The Child Poverty Action Group’s solicitor, Carla Clarke, said: “Universal credit is promoted as a benefit that incentivises work, but in practice its rigid assessment period system undercuts that claim.

“Our clients have been left repeatedly without money for family essentials simply because of the date of their paydays.

“We say that the DWP’s refusal to alter our clients’ assessment period dates to avoid this problem discriminates against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being irrational and undermining one of the stated purposes of universal credit- to make sure that work always pays.

“This is a fundamental defect in universal credit and an injustice to hard-working parents and their children that must be put right for our clients and everyone else affected.”

Please attend the High Court – on the Strand, London WC2A 2LL – to show your support on Tuesday, 27 November 2018, from 10.30am: go into Court 1 to support the claimants. 

It will continue on Wednesday; check court listing here.

This is the second judicial review of Universal Credit; in June last year the High Court found that the system was unlawfully discriminating against severely disabled persons.

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