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High Court rules in favour of families in carers' benefit cap challenge

02 December 2015

Eddy Graham
Head of Advice and Information, Carers UK

On the 26th November the High Court ruled in that by applying the benefit cap to the carers in the case the Government is discriminating against disabled people. Carers UK’s Head of Advice and Information, Eddy Graham looks at the judgment in the case of Hurley, Jarrett and Palmer and its significance for carers. 

 

Last week carers won an important victory.  The High Court ruled that the benefit cap, which limits the total amount of benefit that can be paid to a non-working household, should not apply to carers. The judge in the case, Justice Collins, ruled that applying the benefit cap to carers indirectly discriminates against disabled people.  They would be adversely affected by the inability of their carer to support them if the carer had to give up work as a result of the benefit cap.

 

Carers UK have made the case since the policy was first proposed in 2010 that carers should be exempt from the benefit cap.  An exemption is already in place for those who receive the disability benefits DLA/PIP/AA – but not necessarily for their carers. Despite our campaigning as the Welfare Reform Bill went through Parliament, there remain only two categories of carer who are exempt, carers for children (under 18) and those caring for a spouse.  These carers are exempt by virtue of the fact that they live in the same “benefit household” as the person receiving DLA/PIP/AA. 

The High Court case concerned two carers in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, both caring for a grandparent and so subject to the benefit cap.  Carers UK provided evidence that applying the benefit cap to carers is inconsistent with the Government’s aims for the policy to save public money and encourage more people to move into work.  

Given the requirements of Carer’s Allowance that people provide at least 35 hours of care a week and the limits placed on earnings alongside this, it’s unlikely that many carers could pick up more work without stopping their caring role altogether.  It’s clear that carers cannot avoid or mitigate the impact of the cap in the ways the Government suggested when they introduced the legislation; (a) by seeking work, (b) by reducing the costs of housing, or (c) by budgeting to reducing expenditure on non-housing items.

Along with picking up extra work we have argued that the other actions are simply not open to carers. Many carers receiving Housing Benefit will find it difficult to easily relocate to lower cost housing whilst still remaining close enough to the person they support.   In any event, as Justice Collins commented, Carers UK’s research on the value of unpaid care highlights the increased public cost that would come from forcing people to stop caring to work.

Finally, in arguing against the cap applying to carers we also highlighted the financial hardship that many carers are already under. The evidence from our annual State of Caring survey completed by around 5000 carers and our yearlong Caring & Family Finances Inquiry clearly set out the extra costs and financial burden of caring particularly for those who have given up work to care.

It is fantastic that 5 years on from the debates on the Bill, we’ve taken a big step forward in carers becoming exempt from the benefit cap. We were delighted that the judgment given by Justice Collins makes a number of references to the evidence Carers UK provided and that the Solicitor taking the case, Rebekah Carrier, highlighted the importance of our evidence in securing the court’s decision.

So what happens next?

The Government has not yet said how it will respond to the court’s decision and has issued guidance to DWP staff that, for now, the benefit cap continues to apply in the same way. If the Government appeals, then the case will go to the Court of Appeal for consideration.

Carers UK will be writing to the Secretary of State and Minister for Disabled People to welcome the judgement and urge the Government not to appeal but to quickly bring forward a change in the regulations which would make all carers exempt from the cap.  The High Court decision related specifically to carers who were in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, caring for a family member and not part of a couple, but we believe that all carers in receipt of Carer’s Allowance should be exempt from the cap as many of the arguments accepted by the court will apply to them as much as the carers in the case.  

There are a number of amendments tabled to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill relating to the benefit cap including one that aims to exempt carers which Carers UK will be briefing Peers on as they debate the Bill in the coming weeks. The new Bill proposes to lower the benefit cap further meaning it will catch more carers so it’s more important than ever to press the Government to accept the Judge’s reasoning and therefore exempt carers from the benefit cap.

 

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