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High Court makes promptness reminder in benefits uplift ruling

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(21 February 2022)

Claimants challenging government decisions may not get the relief they want if they begin their action late in the day, the High Court has warned.

In a high-profile judgment handed down last Friday, Mr Justice Swift dismissed a challenge brought by four claimants on so-called ‘legacy benefits’ who challenged coronavirus regulations that introduced a weekly £20 universal credit uplift.

The claimants argued that the absence of a corresponding increase for other benefits including jobseeker’s allowance amounted to unlawful discrimination. However Mr Justice Swift ruled that the government provided sufficient justification for the difference in treatment and said the government must be permitted a ‘sensible margin of discretion’ for measures taken during a national emergency.

The judge then went on to comment on the lateness of the action – even though it was not a point taken up by the government.

He said the claimants’ claim form, filed in March 2021, ‘side-steps the fact that this is a challenge to the 2020 regulations commenced over a year after those regulations were made’. He said it was not accurate to describe the decision as ‘ongoing’ and the claimants did not provide a reason for commencing their challenge ‘so late in the day’.

‘The secretary of state did not take any point that the claim was commenced out of time. As it is, I have considered the claimants’ claims on their merits, and rejected them on that basis. However, had the outcome been different, the fact that the challenge was commenced late [might] well have had a significant influence on any decision as to what, if any, relief should be granted,’ Swift continued.

Reminding the parties of the rule that claims must be commenced promptly and in any event within three months, he said: ‘The requirement to act promptly is of particular importance when the decision challenged is one of general application since that is likely to be the type of situation in which delay can cause harm to the public interest in good administration. The exceptional circumstances in which the decision to make the 2020 regulations was taken only goes to underscore the need for any challenge to be commenced promptly.’

The claimants were represented by William Ford, a partner at Osbornes Law. He told the Gazette: ‘The original 2020 regulations were made as part of an immediate response to the pandemic. However, we argued that there was an ongoing obligation upon the government to keep this policy under review and consider its impact over time, particularly in circumstances where there was a clear difference of treatment with people in analogous circumstances on legacy benefits who were not getting the uplift.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)