Upper Tribunal Finds Discrimination in Delayed Universal Credit Payments: PR v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Citation: [2023] UKUT 290 (AAC)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of PR v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions represents a significant analysis of the applicability of human rights principles, particularly Article 14 and Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to UK social security legislation. It is centered around the eligibility for and timing of Universal Credit payments, specifically the limited capability for work-related activity element (LCWRA), in the context of anti-discrimination provisions under human rights law.

Key Facts

PR, the appellant, challenged the First-tier Tribunal’s decision that upheld the application of regulation 28 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 (UC Regs), which delayed the inclusion of the LCWRA element in her Universal Credit award. PR argued that this was discriminatory under Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with A1P1. She sought to backdate her claim under regulation 26 of the UC (C&P) Regs to the date her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ceased due to her reaching pensionable age.

The Upper Tribunal Judge Wright found that the First-tier Tribunal erred in law for not engaging with the human rights argument and not providing adequate reasons for its decision.

Human Rights Act 1998 and Discrimination

The central legal principle addressed is the application of the Human Rights Act 1998, which enacts the rights under the ECHR into UK law, particularly concerning discrimination (Article 14) and the right to property (A1P1). The case law from ‘Stec v United Kingdom’ and ‘RJM v SSWP’ was particularly instructive in determining whether welfare benefits constitute ‘possessions’ for A1P1 purposes and how the ambit of a right is considered in relation to discrimination claims.

Ambit of A1P1

The key question was whether the rule delaying the payment of the LCWRA element, regulation 28 of the UC Regs, fell within the ambit of A1P1. The ambit test does not require showing a breach of A1P1 but a broader assessment of whether, but for the challenged condition of entitlement, the applicant would have a right, enforceable under domestic law, to receive the benefit.

Justification for Differential Treatment

The Secretary of State conceded that if the legislation fell within the ambit of A1P1, there was no objective and reasonable justification for the different treatment based on age, as required under Article 14 ECHR.

Backdating Claims

The principles governing the ‘backdating’ of claims are defined in regulation 26 of the UC (C&P) Regs. The crux of this regulation is that if the claimant could not have reasonably been expected to claim earlier due to specific circumstances, such as not being informed that their previous benefit was ending, the claim can be extended backwards up to a month.

Outcomes

The Upper Tribunal allowed the appeal, concluding that:

  1. The appellant was discriminated against under Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with A1P1 regarding the delayed application of the LCWRA element in her Universal Credit award.
  2. Regulation 28(1) (and part of regulation 28(2)) of the UC Regs was to be disapplied for the appellant’s claim from 26 October 2020.
  3. PR’s claim for Universal Credit was to be treated as made on 18 October 2020, the day after her entitlement to ESA ended.

Conclusion

The Upper Tribunal’s decision elucidates the meticulous scrutiny required in evaluating whether statutory provisions on welfare benefits fall within the ambit of human rights protections. It highlights the tribunals’ obligation under the Human Rights Act 1998 to substantively engage with human rights claims brought to their attention, providing clarity on the interplay between national legislation and international human rights obligations. The case signifies an important precedent in assessing the legitimacy of discrimination within the welfare benefits scheme under the ECHR.

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