Three single working mothers have brought a legal case at the high court to challenge the rigidity of the assessment period regime in universal credit.
The claim for judicial review was filed by the Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of the mothers in March. It says the rigidity of the system results in some people being treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period which affects the amount of their Universal Credit award.
One of the mothers has a UC assessment period which runs from the 30th of one month to the 29th of the next and she is paid by her employer on the last working day of each month. As a consequence, there are some assessment periods when she is treated as receiving two monthly wages. The CPAG says this results in a dramatically reduced UC award, as she is treated as receiving twice the amount from income as is usually the case. It says this causes cash flow problems for people managing on a very tightly balanced budget.
The mother is also entitled to a working allowance so she also effectively loses out on the benefit of one working allowance against one month’s salary. This is not compensated by the fact that the following assessment period she is treated as receiving no wages and so gets the maximum UC allowance.
For the two other mothers, their UC assessment period runs from 28th of one month to 27th of the next and they are paid monthly on the 28th. When the 28th falls on a non-working day they are paid early resulting in two wages falling in one assessment period.
The CPAG argues that DWP’s refusal to adjust the claimants’ assessment periods to avoid this situation is discriminatory against working parents with children (one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance), as well as being irrational and undermining the legislative purpose of UC.
It says that, far from incentivising work, mirroring the world of work or ensuring consistency and predictability, the claimants’ fluctuating UC award means that things would be much easier for them if they were not working and instead receiving, on a regular and entirely predictable basis, the maximum UC award.
The hearing is expected to end this week and a verdict is anticipated in 2019.