The hearing will decide whether the two million people who claim old benefits should have received the same level of Covid support that was given to Universal Credit claimants
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A court challenge to decide whether those on old-style legacy benefits were unfairly left out of Covid support by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been pushed back.
The legal row could see two million people who claim old benefits in line for backpay of around £1,500.
It centres around whether these people should have received the same financial boost as those on Universal Credit during the pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic, Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a £20 a week uplift for more than six million Universal Credit claimants.
But similar help wasn’t offered to those on older benefits like Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Income Support.
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The case was brought forward by two people who claim ESA but two new claimants have since joined, one who gets JSA and another who claims Income Support.
The court hearing was due to take place this week but it has now been postponed, with the case now set to be heard on November 17 and 18 instead.
The judgement might not be announced on the day, so those on old-style benefits may not find out the result until toward the end of the year.
If the court rules in favour of the claimants, one scenario could see the DWP issue back payments to those affected.
This would be worth up to £1,500 if the DWP matched the level of support those on Universal Credit received during the pandemic.
But even if the DWP loses, there is also no guarantee of any sort of payout – and it may not be worth as much as £1,500.
This is because it would be down to the government to decide how it rectifies to situation, if the hearing goes against the DWP.
The court would not be able to decide the remedy. There would be other factors to consider in terms of any award amount given as well.
For example, the court could find the difference in treatment between those on Universal Credit and legacy benefits was justified for a period of time, but then stopped being justified.
Another option the DWP could decide to do, should the court rule against it, is to just extend the uplift to those on the old benefits system going forward.
The DWP may also decide to appeal any court decision, or take action without the case reaching court.
Universal Credit is slowly replacing legacy benefits but the process will not be complete until 2024 at the earliest – meaning the government is aware of the millions of people still on the previous welfare state.
This includes around 1.9 million people who claim ESA, along with those who get Income Support and JSA.
William Ford, solicitor at Osbornes Law, which is representing the claimants, said: “The hearing of our clients challenge to the government’s failure to uplift rates for legacy benefits had been listed to be heard on 28-30 September 2021.
“Unfortunately we have received notification from the Court that the hearing has had to be adjourned due to judicial availability. It has now been re-listed for 17-18 November 2021.
“The claimants are, understandably, very disappointed that the hearing of their case has been delayed, but the case continues and we look now to prepare for the adjourned hearing.”