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High Court rules millions of legacy benefits claimants won’t get backdated payments

Campaigners have called the decision "immensely disappointing" and said it was wrong for households on legacy benefits to be left out of the crucial improvement to support given to millions of people.

legacy benefits protesters

People on legacy benefits were not given the £20 per week increase, which would amount to £1,040 per year. The campaigners outside the High Court in 2021. Image: @imajsaclaimant

The High Court has ruled the government will not have to make backdated payments of £1,500 to two million people who missed out on Covid support payments. 

The case was brought by four “legacy benefit” recipients who claimed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) discriminated against them by giving a £20 per week uplift to those receiving universal credit, but not them. 

The judge admitted that legacy benefits were “low”, and said: “It is obvious that any person required to rely only on that level of income will suffer hardship”.

However the ruling stated the “difference in treatment” between recipients of Universal Credit and those receiving legacy benefits was “justified”, because the £20 uplift was aimed at people who lost their job due to Covid.

Legacy benefits are benefits that pre-exist universal credit, and include Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which is paid to people who are disabled or sick. Most of the people who missed out on support were ESA claimants.

The DWP had claimed it was unable to give the £20 per week uplift, given as Covid support to recipients of universal credit until the autumn, due to limitations in the system used to distribute benefits.

Iain Porter, policy and partnerships manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, described the uplift as a “lifeline” in protecting those who received it from poverty and hunger.

“It was wrong that households on legacy benefits, the majority of whom are disabled, sick or have caring responsibilities, were left out of this crucial improvement to support, simply for being in a different part of the system,” he continued.

Anela Anwar, chief executive of London-based poverty charity Z2K, called the ruling “immensely disappointing”, given that “the court accepted there had been discrimination against disabled people in DWP’s approach.”

“Over two million people on legacy benefits, most of whom are disabled, have been forced to live on less than those who were newly unemployed or even who were already in receipt of Universal Credit. The cost-of-living crisis is not going away, and benefit levels remain totally inadequate,” she continued. 

Solicitor for the four claimants, William Ford of Osbornes Law, said: “We are extremely disappointed by today’s judgement and will study it carefully to assess whether there are any grounds to appeal.”

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