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.

Training and advice

During the initial outreach for this project PLP’s caseworkers have assisted many individuals facing punitive measures. The overall strategy is to develop an informed network, through training, support and research to identify systemic failures and, if necessary, bring test cases ensuring the system works within the law.

We are currently developing a training and advice project with a national reach working with and providing support to key agencies dealing with sanctioned people.  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 two leaflets on Universal Credit Claimant Commitments, and will be writing three more, to help people with different personal circumstances agree their Claimant Commitments:

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 on the range of remedies available: MRs, appeals, complaints and judicial review. In some cases we may be able to provide an advocate for a hearing. Issues on which we may be able to assist include:

  • Challenging decisions to sanction, including assisting with requesting reconsiderations and representation for appeals
  • Problems relating to interim payments or hardship payments
  • Assisting to modify or amend claimant commitments (for example due to disability or caring responsibilities)

We regret we are not able to offer assistance directly to individuals on this project unless referred to us by another agency.

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.

PLP represented RF, who brought a challenge to part of the Government’s 2017 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Regulations. The Regulations explicitly excluded applicants receiving higher levels of benefit if they could not undertake certain activities because of psychological distress.   The judge quashed the  Regulations because they discriminate against those with mental health problems in breach of  the Human Rights Act. Because they were discriminatory, the judge also found that the Secretary of State did not have lawful power to make the Regulations (i.e. they were “ultra vires”), and that he should have consulted before making them, because they went against the very purpose of the PIP.  RF’s claim was supported by The National Autistic Society, Inclusion London, Revolving Doors and Disability Rights UK.  All of those organisations gave statements to the court that the Regulations were unfair and that the intention to treat those with psychological distress differently had not been made clear in the early PIP consultation stages. The claim was also supported by two interveners: Mind and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC made written submissions to the Court on the ongoing and persistent breaches by the UK Government of its obligations under UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities arising from its austerity measures. The Judge found that this inconsistency with the UN Convention supported his finding that the measure had no objective justification.

In his judgment Mr Justice Mostyn noted (para 59) that “The wish to save nearly £1 billion a year at the expense of those with mental health impairments is not a reasonable foundation for passing this measure.”

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.