On May 15th 2019 the Supreme Court ruled, by a 5:2 majority, to refuse an appeal against the benefit cap for single parents with children aged under two.
This means that the Benefit Cap can be applied to single parents with small children. This is despite the aim of the cap being to incentivise people to look for work, and under the benefit regulations lone parents with young children are not expected to be in work.
What was the basis of the appeal?
The appeal to the Supreme Court, heard on 17th to 19th July 2018, was made up of two originally separate appeals: R (DS &others) v SSWP) – brought by CPAG on behalf of two single parent families, and R(DA and Others) v SSWP. The appeal was heard by a seven judge panel.
The appellannt's argument was that the Cap discriminates against lone parents with young children, and that such discrimination is irrational and breaches the SSWP’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
This is because parents with young children have less opportunity to work because of their caring responsibilities, and frequently have additional pressures. In the cases considered, some of the children had long term medical conditions; one family had previously fled violence.
The judges considered whether any discrimination against single parent families with young children was justifiable. Lady Hale argued that the government failed to strike a fair balance between the benefits of the cap and the severe damage to the lives of such families where the parents have to choose between working outside the home and not having enough for the family to live on.
But the majority (5:2) conclusion was that the government’s belief - that there are better long-term outcomes for children in households where an adult works - is a reasonable foundation for treating such families in the same way as everyone else subjected to the cap.
CPAG’s Head of Strategic Litigation Carla Clarke commented:
“There are very real and practical reasons, recognised by the court, as to why such a lone parent struggles to find sufficient work to escape the cap. Yet, while failing to achieve its aim of getting such lone parents into work because of those wider obstacles they face, the cap, in the words of the court, ‘push[es] a family well below the poverty line.”
What can capped families do?
• They should check to see if they or any of their children fall under any of the exceptions, including seeing if they are eligible for any of the exempting benefits: see this page of the website for UC; this page for HB.
• If possible they should attempt to find enough work to exempt themselves from the Cap. More on what “enough work” means on this page and this page for HB; this page for UC.
• They can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment. Note that some Local Authorities will refuse to award or re-award a DHP where they feel that the claimant has not taken sufficient steps to enter the labour market. If there are particular reasons (other than simply the age of the youngest child) that make this difficult (eg cost or availability of childcare, availability of suitable jobs, rural location, lack of transport, children’s health, vulnerability, etc) then these must be mentioned in any application.
In February 2019, 71% of capped households were single-parent families. Of the single parent households who had their housing benefit capped, 76% had a child under age 5, and 25% had a child under age 2.
Government statistics .
Only 5% of capped households are more likely to move into work because of the cap.
The Benefit Cap restricts the total amount of (most) means tested benefits for a household to £23,000 per annum for couples and single parents in Greater London and £20,000 outside London.
Some families are exempt from the Cap, for example:
• Where the claimant or joint claimant/partner is working “enough” – this means, under UC, that total earnings are at least 16hrs a week x the minimum wage; under HB they are working enough hours to be eligible for Working Tax Credit.
• The claiming family includes anyone on certain benefits:
• Disability Living Allowance,
• Personal Independence Payment,
• Armed Forces Independence Payment,
• Attendance Allowance,
• Constant Attendance Allowance.
• Where the claimant/ joint claimant /partner) is getting certain benefits:
• ESA (Support Component) or Universal Credit (LCWRA element);
• Carers Allowance or the Carer Element in UC
• Guardians Allowance
• Industrial Injuries Benefits
• War Widows / War Widowers Pension etc
More detail on this page of the website for UC; this page for HB.