Legal challenge to ‘benefit cap’: test cases issued for vulnerable families

Barristers Ian Wise QC and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, instructed by Rebekah Carrier at Hopkin Murray Beskine, act for four vulnerable families who have today issued judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, challenging the ‘benefit cap.’  The benefit cap policy has been imposed in four local authority areas since 15 April 2013 (including Haringey, where one of these families live) and will be rolled out across the country over the summer.  All affected households across the country are due to be capped by 30 September 2013.


The policy involves the ‘capping’ of total household benefits payable to families who do not work sufficient hours to receive Working Tax Credits (usually 16 or 35 hours per week).  The cap is set at £500 per week per household for couples or lone parents (it is £350 per week for single adults).  The Government estimates that it will impact on 56,000 households in the first year alone.  Benefits which are counted towards the calculation of the cap include housing benefit, child benefit, bereavement allowance, carer’s allowance, maternity allowance, severe disablement allowance and widow’s pension. The cap applies regardless of the number of children/ dependents in the family, and so larger families are particularly affected.  Over 80% of households to be affected by the cap include three or more children, and children are nine times more likely to be affected than adults.  The Government accepts that most of those who will be affected are women; approximately half of those who will be affected are disabled; and 40% are ethnic minorities who are likely to have larger family units.


The policy will have devastating effects on these four families.  Two of the families will receive nil for basic subsistence (food, clothes, heating) as their rent exceeds the £500 per week cap.  They will immediately fall into arrears, face eviction and street homelessness.  Two of the families have fled domestic violence in circumstances where they were financially reliant upon their abusive partners, and they risk losing their homes and being unable to feed and clothe their children.


More details of the legal challenge are contained in this press release from Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors.

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