Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v Akhtar

Court of Appeal, Underhill VP, Macur and Moylan LJJ, [2021] EWCA Civ 1353, 10 September 2021

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against the decision of the Upper Tribunal that the exclusion from entitlement to Bereavement Payment (“BP”) under ss 36 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 of those whose marriages were recognised for religious purposes, and not in English law, breached Article 14 read with A1P1. There was some disagreement between the Court of Appeal judges as to the law relating to polygamy but all were agreed that the claimant was not analogously situated to someone whose religious marriage (conducted abroad) was so recognised, further that the discrimination was justified in any event, the decision of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions having little impact in this case. Continue reading

R (MD & Anor) v Secretary of State for the Home Department

Administrative Court: Kerr J,  [2021] EWHC 1370 (Admin), [2021] PTSR 1680, 24 May 2021

The claimants were single mothers from Albania who had been victims of sex trafficking who had sought asylum in the UK. Prior to the grant of their refugee status they had been denied financial support under the provisions of the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract in respect of their dependent children because they were asylum seekers in receipt of asylum support. They would not have been so excluded had they not been in receipt of asylum support but had been in receipt of financial support from other sources (universal credit, “legacy” benefits or paid work). The High Court ruled that the claimants’ treatment amounted to discrimination on grounds of sex contrary to Article 14 ECHR read with Article 8 and A1P1. Noting that the different treatment was the result of mistake rather than intention, the Judge ruled that the margin of appreciation available to protect the making of a judgment did not so readily protect against incompetence in its execution, remarking that “a margin of appreciation is not the same thing as a licence to err”. Kerr J was notably critical of the defendant, referring to her evidence being “not of progress towards reform but of corporate amnesia and repeated requests for more time” and submissions made on her behalf as “constitutionally wrong and unfair to the court”. He awarded the claimants under s8(3) HRA, seeing “real force” in the submission that their treatment had been “egregious”.

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R (TD & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Court of Appeal: Singh, Rose and Arnold LJJ, [2020] EWCA Civ 618, 12 May 2020

Note that the decision in R (DA) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2019] UKSC 21; [2019] 1 WLR 3289 is no longer good law as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see later post).

The standard of justification in Article 14 cases concerning welfare benefits has been fixed by the Supreme Court as being the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” (MWRF) test. Attempts to unseat this on the basis that it is inconsistent with the approach of the ECHR where protected characteristics such as sex or disability are concerned (see eg R (Carmichael) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKSC 58, [2016] 1 WLR 4550) have failed, even the perennially courteous Lord Wilson insisting in R (DA) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2019] UKSC 21; [2019] 1 WLR 3289 that, as regards welfare benefits, “the sole question is whether it is manifestly without reasonable foundation. Let there be no future doubt about it.” This approach may fall to be revisited in light of the ECtHR decision in JD & A v United Kingdom (Applications nos. 32949/17 and 34614/17) [2020] HLR 5, in which that Court confirmed that the MWRF applies to discrimination challenged under Article 14 and A1P1 only in “circumstances where an alleged difference in treatment resulted from a transitional measure forming part of a scheme carried out in order to correct an inequality” (such as in Stec v UK (Applications nos. 65731/01 and 65900/01)(2006) 43 EHRR 47). Meanwhile, the decision of the Court of Appeal in TD indicates that even the MWRF test is capable of being breached. Continue reading