Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
Both were decisions of the Supreme Court concerning the benefit cap. This provides that a household’s total entitlement to welfare benefits cannot exceed an annual limit. The cap is disapplied if a certain amount of relevant work is completed.
In common with many Article 14 ECHR claims, both cases raise complex issues about the proper constitutional role of the courts. SG (the first benefit cap case)
R (Tigere) v. Secretary of State for Business  UKSC 57, 29 July 2015 read judgment here
Ms Tigere is 20. She arrived in the UK from Zambia when she was 6. She did very well at school. In 2013, she applied for a student loan to fund a university place.
The current English system does not allow her to apply for a loan, because of her immigration status. In particular, she did not
(1) have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) here (and so did not comply with the “settlement rule”), and
(2) have three years of “lawful” ordinary residence here (so did not comply with “the residence rule”).
In a very close run thing, the Supreme Court decided that the application of the settlement rule was incompatible with her Convention rights, under Article 2 of the First Protocol and/or Article 14. By contrast, the residence rule was not incompatible with her rights.
The result was 3-2, and Lord Hughes (of the majority) disagreed with important elements of the reasoning of Lady Hale and Lord Kerr who found for Ms Tigere.
The case is a perfect example of the difficulties of deciding human rights cases in the context of social benefits, as we shall see.
The Supreme Court was sharply divided yesterday over whether the benefit cap breaches the Human Rights Act. The controversial cap limits the total amount of benefits an out-of-work family can receive, including housing benefit and benefits for children, to £500 per week. It is applied regardless of family size or circumstances such as rental costs. As a result, lone parents with children in large families are disproportionately affected, both because they are more likely to be hit by the cap and because they are less likely to be able to avoid its effects. Continue reading →
Moseley R (ota) v. London Borough of Haringey  UK 56 – read judgment
Lord Wilson posed the question, answered today by the Supreme Court, with concision. When Parliament requires a local authority to consult interested persons before making a decision which would potentially affect all of its inhabitants, what are the ingredients of the requisite consultation?
The judgments reveal the surprising fact that the core principles of consultation (named after Gunning, as public lawyers will know) have never been approved by the Supreme Court or its predecessor, the House of Lords. The Court was happy to endorse them as embodiments of fairness. But it went on to consider the duty to consult on rejected alternatives – as very recently debated by the Court of Appeal in the Rusal case – see my post here.
MM(Lebanon) and Others, R (on the application of ) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor  EWCA Civ 985 (11 July 2014) – read judgment
Neil Sheldon of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the appellant Secretary of State in this case. He has not had anything to do with the writing of this post.
Provisions in the Immigration Rules which impose income requirements on individuals living in the United Kingdom, who wish to bring their non-European Economic Area citizen spouses to live with them, are not a disproportionate interference with their right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Appeal has also underlined the important (but often misunderstood) point that there is no legal requirement that the Immigration Rules should provide that the best interests of the child should be determinative. Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 is not a “trump card” to be played whenever the interests of a child arise. Continue reading →
Rutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.
At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” –did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.
The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.
MA and others (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 2213 (QB) (30 July 2013) – read judgment
The High Court has unanimously dismissed an application for a declaration that the so-called “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled claimants.
This was a challenge by way of judicial review to regulations that came into force last year, reducing the amount of housing benefits by reference to the number of bedrooms permitted by the relevant statute (the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ). These new rules, which have applied to claimants of housing benefit since April 2013, restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. Discretionary housing payments are available for certain qualifying individuals to mitigate the effect of the new rules, in particular the effects on disabled people and those with foster caring responsibilities. Continue reading →
Reilly & Anor, R (On the Application of)  EWHC Civ 66 – read judgment
Adam Wagner has also commented on this case in The Times (£) as well as onNewsnight (from the start)
The Court of Appeal has ruled that regulations under the Jobseekers Act 1995 were unlawful as not meeting the requirements of that statute.
This was an appeal against a decision by Foskett J that the regulations were lawful. The two appellants were unemployed and claiming the Jobseekers’s Allowance. After refusing to participate in schemes under the Regulations in which they were required to work for no pay ( the Sector-Based Work Academy in Miss Reilly’s case and the Community Action Programme (CAP) in Mr Wilson’s), they were told that they risked losing their allowance. Continue reading →
Knowles and another, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 19 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has rejected a claim that Gypsies occupying caravans on private land were discriminated against by legislation which resulted in them not being able to claim full Housing Benefit to cover their rent.
Occupiers of caravans on a site owned by a local housing authority receive a Housing Benefit rent rebate of the whole of the rent charged. But if the caravan is on a private site, then the rent on which HB can be claimed is subject to determination by a rent officer, and that is normally substantially less than the full contractual rent charged. The claimants maintained that this scheme fails to meet the essential housing needs of Gypsies on private sites, who have particular site infrastructure and management needs – which result in additional costs, and hence a legitimately higher rent, not reflected in the HB awarded. They contended that the scheme was therefore discriminatory, and in breach of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when read with article 1 of the First Protocol 1 (the right to property) and article 8 of the substantive Convention (the right to respect for family and private life). Continue reading →
Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.
Mr De A is a Portuguese national. He lived in the UK from 1998 to 2001 and from 2008 to date. He worked during the first period and for a year after his return. Mr De A had contracted HIV and AIDS. His health deteriorated so that he was not able to work. His prognosis in October 2010 was that he had about a year to live. At the time of the first hearing in this case in November 2011, his prognosis was about 6 months.
The criminalisation of support for terrorist organisations has arisen in various domestic and international contexts recently, and it is likely that the issue will continue to attract controversy as states attempt to trace the boundaries of what can fairly be considered “support” for terrorism, and risk criminal legislation unjustifiably infringing on human rights.
The Human Rights in Ireland blog has posted the first in a series addressing the issue (update – the second post in the series is now available, see below). In the post, Dr. Cian Murphy suggests that “One of the most corrosive effects on political freedom during the “war on terrorism” has been that caused by material support legislation.” He goes on to refer to three recent decisions, including the 2008 Kadicase on EU implementation of UN sanctions against individuals linked to the Taleban, al-Qaeda and bin Laden (see ASIL case comment).
Prime Minister David Cameron has been busy preparing the country for “painful” cuts to pensions, pay and benefits. In a recent Guardian Article, The changing face of human rights, Afua Hirsch comments with approval on the 2008 recommendation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that a new UK bill of rights should include the rights to health, education, housing and an adequate standard of living. Rosalind English asks whether the time has indeed come for “economic” human rights.
Ms Hirsch cites a number of examples around the world where such “social and economic rights” have been used successfully to challenge government policy on the distribution of healthcare, housing and benefits. Why, then, she asks, is such an extension of our existing rights so strenuously resisted in this country?
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