Good morning

The House of Commons Library published its latest report, on 14th June 2019, focused on the problems, full and part-time “workers” can experience because of the way DWP assesses earnings and other income, received during the course of their monthly Benefit Assessment Period.

Problems arise when more than the actual monthly earnings are considered, leaving, in some case, the claimant receiving little or nothing during the period. This, in turn, causes claimants significant problems meeting their monthly commitments, including paying their rent. Where it results in a NIL award, it will also require them to re-apply for Universal Credit. It can also result in them losing Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) and being affected by the Benefits Cap, usually in the month following, as an adjustment is made.

The problem is particularly acute for people who are paid weekly, fortnightly, 4 weekly, are paid on the last day of each month and/or their employer bring forward payments at holiday periods (e.g. Christmas). Invariably, during the year they will experience, 1 or more months, where they are harshly dealt with. DWP’s response to the problem has been, typically, less than sympathetic. It suggested, that over the course of a year, UC payments would adjust themselves, leaving a negligible difference; claimants could ask their employers to change their payment cycle; or budget accordingly; but, in any case, it was properly applying the law as approved by Parliament.

On 11 January 2019, the High Court ruled that the DWP had wrongly interpreted the regulations on how earned income should be calculated. It held that the amount of earned income in respect of an assessment period is based on, but not necessarily the same as, income actually received in that period. The DWP would have to make adjustments where the actual amounts received in an assessment period do not in fact reflect earnings payable in respect of that period. My earlier bulletin provides more details on the court’s ruling.

At a further hearing on 26 February the High Court rejected the DWP’s application for permission to appeal. The Department has now applied directly to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal.

In the meantime, the High Court judgement should be applied. Where it’s not, claimants and/or their welfare benefit advisors, should challenge DWP’s approach by seeking a review of the decision, citing the court’s ruling.

The report, like most HOC publications, is very informative and is something I would recommend you sharing with frontline staff as the numbers of tenants potentially affected will rise significantly over the next 3 years as Managed Migration starts to bite.

If you require any further information on this topic, please get in touch.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd