R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Supreme Court [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428, 9 July 2021

Lord Reed P, Lord Hodge DP, Lady Black, Lords Lloyd-Jones, Kitchin, Sales and Lord Stephens

This is a very important decision of the Supreme Court concerning a challenge brought under Articles 8 and 12 ECHR, read alone and with Article 14, to the restriction of the individual element of child tax credit to an amount calculated by reference to two children.  The Supreme Court rejected the challenges under Articles 8 and 12 and, of more relevance to this blog, rejected arguments about direct and indirect discrimination against children, though it accepted that there were prima facie cases of sex discrimination and of direct discrimination against children living in households with more than two children, as compared with children living in households with two or fewer children.

The challenge ultimately failed on justification grounds but the case, which has been cited extensively in virtually every Article 14 decision of the domestic courts since it was decided, is significant because the Court revisited the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” which had been the orthodox approach to Convention challenges to economic/ social policy in the domestic courts since at least 2012.  The case was also significant in that it reimposed an orthodox approach to the treatment of unincorporated international obligations (here the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and included extensive consideration of the reliance which might be placed by the courts on Parliamentary debates and other Parliamentary material when considering whether primary legislation is compatible with Convention rights.

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R (Blundell & Ors) v SSWP; R (Day) v SSWP

Administrative Court: Kerr J, [2021] EWHC 608 (Admin), 17 March 2021

The Claimants unsuccessfully challenged the Defendant’s policy of making deductions at a fixed rate from universal credit (UC) to pay off criminal fines. So far as relevant here, the claim alleged breach of the PSED (s149 Equality Act 2010) and unlawful indirect disability discrimination. The latter claim failed on the evidence, Kerr J pointing out that it would more suitably have been brought in the county court. The Judge did accept that the Defendant had breached the PSED but ruled against the claimants on the basis that compliance with the PSED would very likely have made no difference and that, therefore, s31A of the Senior Courts Act 1981 defeated the claim. Continue reading

R (on the application of Caine) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Administrative Court: Julian Knowles J, [2020] EWHC 2482 (Admin), 23 September 2020

The claimant unsuccessfully sought to challenge the calculation of the housing element of Universal Credit (UC) on the basis, inter alia, that it discriminated between weekly and monthly paying tenants. The Judge accepted that the discrimination at issue fell within the scope of A1P1 and was “prepared to assume in the Claimant’s favour that, having regard to the broad approach in … cases [such as R (Stott) v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] UKSC 59, [2018] 3 WLR 1831 and R (DA & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Shelter Children’s Legal Services and others intervening) [2019] UKSC 21, [2019] 1 WLR 3289] that being a weekly tenant is such a status”. In his view, however, that the applicable test for justification in the context of welfare benefit was the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” test had been “authoritatively determined by the Supreme Court’  in DA [65], approving Humphreys v HM Revenue and Customs Commissioners[2012] UKSC 18, [2012] 1 WLR 1545, §§20-22. (Note that the Humphreys approach has been superseded 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)). Continue reading

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