Case Law Article: Upper Tribunal Clarifies Entitlement to Universal Credit for Prisoners in Initial Assessment Periods

Citation: [2023] UKUT 274 (AAC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent case of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v AH [2023] UKUT 274 (AAC), the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) evaluated whether a claimant who becomes a prisoner (remanded in custody but not sentenced to serve more than six months) in their first Universal Credit (UC) assessment period is entitled to the benefit. This case clarifies the application of Regulations within the Universal Credit framework and offers guidance on the entitlement to benefits of individuals remanded in custody during their initial UC assessment period.

Key Facts

The claimant, A.H., applied for Universal Credit on August 17, 2021. Before the end of the first assessment period, A.H. was remanded in custody on September 11, 2021. Following this change in circumstances, a decision was made on September 20, 2021, by the Secretary of State’s decision-maker that A.H. was not entitled to the housing costs element of UC from the start of the claim because A.H. was in prison. A.H. was released on January 26, 2022, and subsequently appealed the September 20, 2021, decision. The First-tier Tribunal initially ruled in A.H.’s favor, but this decision was appealed by the Secretary of State to the Upper Tribunal.

Central to the decision was the interpretation of Regulation 19 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, as amended. This Regulation deals with restrictions on entitlement for prisoners and similar categories. Specifically, Regulation 19(1)(b) states that entitlement to UC does not arise for a prisoner, whereas Regulation 19(2) provides exceptions allowing certain prisoners to receive the housing costs element of UC.

The Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley analyzed two primary legal principles in reaching the decision:

  1. The interpretation of “entitlement,” which occurs at the end of an assessment period and must subsist throughout that period for UC to be paid.
  2. The applicability of Regulation 19(2), which exempts some prisoners from Regulation 19(1)(b)‘s restriction if they were entitled to UC immediately before becoming a prisoner and their award included a housing costs element.

The Tribunal found that the First-tier Tribunal erred by interpreting Regulation 19 in isolation from the broader Universal Credit scheme, which requires a claimant to be entitled throughout an entire assessment period for that period to qualify.

Outcomes

The Upper Tribunal Judge determined that A.H. did not satisfy the conditions of Regulation 19(2) since the claimant’s entitlement had not been assessed prior to his imprisonment, as it would be by the conclusion of the first assessment period. The Tribunal concluded that A.H. was not entitled to UC because his entitlement did not subsist for the full assessment period, and thus, Regulation 19(1)(b) applied and was not disapplied by Regulation 19(2).

The original decision of the Secretary of State was confirmed, and A.H.’s appeal was refused. A.H. was not entitled to the housing costs element of Universal Credit from the claim’s start through the time of remand in custody.

Conclusion

The case of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v AH clarifies the position regarding entitlement to Universal Credit for those remanded in custody. The distinction made between those imprisoned during their first assessment period and any subsequent periods is of particular importance. The judgement of the Upper Tribunal underscores the significance of fully completed assessment periods in determining eligibility to UC components. This case reaffirms the principle that entitlement to Universal Credit requires that one’s eligibility subsist throughout an entire, defined assessment period.

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