PLP has a history of engaging with problems in the provision of benefits to some of the most marginalised in our society.  As with all our work we aim to ensure fair systems, promote access to justice and uphold the Rule of Law in decision making around welfare benefits.

Benefit sanctions and the Rule of Law

PLP is particularly concerned with the lawfulness of benefit sanctioning and the impact this has on marginalised people, especially those with disabilities.

The aims of our sanctioning project are to ensure that, at minimum:

  • Sanctions are imposed fairly, lawfully and in a non-discriminatory manner
  • Benefit claimants have effective access to appropriate and timely remedies when things go wrong.

This work is kindly funded by The Baring Foundation.

We are now producing a regular newsletter for the project which you can find here.

Training and information work

As part of our work in this area we have developed two workshops on public law and benefit sanctions. The first workshop is aimed at welfare rights advisers with a good understanding of social security law and aims to introduce them to the role of public law and judicial review in challenging unfair sanctioning decisions. The second workshop is aimed at frontline workers, such as mental health or housing support workers and provides an introduction to benefit sanctioning and the range of available remedies including judicial review. We have limited capacity to deliver further training workshops.

If your organisation wishes to receive training or further information on benefit sanctions and the Rule of Law please contact sanctions@publiclawproject.org.uk

It is important that everyone who claims Universal Credit is able to agree a Claimant Commitment that properly reflects their personal circumstances, as these agreements often form the basis of a sanction that is imposed. We have written a number of leaflets on Universal Credit Claimant Commitments to help people with different personal circumstances agree their Claimant Commitments. You can read our leaflets here.

Thanks to the generous support of the Matrix Causes Fund, we have launched a separate microsite to host these leaflets so that they are more accessible to claimants, and will be able to provide hard copies of the leaflets to organisations working with people at risk of being sanctioned. Please contact us at sanctions@publiclawproject.org.uk for more information.

Casework

As part of our work on this issue, we are able to take referrals of individual cases where there are concerns that a person is being – or is at risk of being – unfairly or unlawfully sanctioned. We can provide advice and information on the range of remedies available: MRs, appeals, complaints and judicial review, but are unfortunately not able to provide casework unless the case is suitable for judicial review. Issues on which we may be able to assist include:

  • Unreasonable requirements imposed in a claimant commitment/failure to tailor the claimant commitment
  • Conditionality pending a work capability assessment, mandatory reconsideration or appeal
  • Continued application of sanctions after change of conditionality group
  • Cases where claimants have multiple deductions, particularly where these eat into housing costs
  • Cases where claimants are left destitute/homeless after deductions, including sanctions, particularly if there is a delay in responding to an MR or appeal
  • Cases where claimants are not advised of available easements, including domestic violence
  • Accessibility issues, ie inaccessible DWP premises, digital claims process, online journal etc
  • Cases where claimants cannot access hardship payments

We regret we are not able to offer assistance directly to individuals on this project unless referred to us by another agency. We are a small organisation with limited capacity and cannot guarantee that we will be able to help in all cases that are referred to us. To make a referral, please email us to request a referral form at sanctions@publiclawproject.org.uk

Personal Independence Payments (PIPs)

We continue to research and monitor the lawfulness of PIP.  This culminated in the case of RF, where the court ruled that regulations restricting PIP mobility payments to assist people with severe mental health issues are unlawful.  The full judgment can be read here.

Using the law to address unfair systems

The Public Law Project’s (PLP) collaborative approach to public law has featured in a case study of the landmark legal challenge to the personal independence payments scheme, a case that changed the assessment criteria for thousands of people on disability benefits.

The research carried out by Dr Lisa Vanhala and Dr Jacqui Kinghan of UCL identifies strategic lessons for third sector organisations that use public law to challenge unfair systems and highlights the ‘pivotal role’ PLP played in coordinating with a wide network of individuals and organisations.

‘Using the law to address unfair systems’ is based on interviews with some of those most involved in the legal challenge, including PLP Deputy Legal Director Sara Lomri, and gives first-hand insights into how NGOs, funders and litigators won the judicial review brought by PLP’s client, RF.

Co-published by The Baring Foundation and Lankelly Chase, the report also looks at the post-litigation ‘legacy’ phase and raises important questions such as how the Government can be held to account to implement such rulings, and who has responsibility for communicating subsequent policy changes to those affected.

PLP Deputy Legal Director Sara Lomri said: “PLP is grateful to The Baring Foundation and the Lankelly Chase Foundation for enabling this research which we hope will contribute to wider learning about how the law can be used to address unfair systems.

“As the authors point out, public law can empower individuals to challenge unfair systems, but there is more work to be done to ensure that legal ‘victories’ deliver meaningful change for the people they are meant to help.”

The report can be read in full here.

Research and policy work

We have submitted evidence to the Work and Pension’s Committee inquiries on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Benefit Sanctions. We have also written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to raise concerns over unfair practices in linking appeal refusals to DWP employees performance targets.