A disabled student has launched a legal case against the government for the right to be able to claim universal credit. She claims that the Department of Work and Pensions' (DWP) current policy, which prevents disabled students from claiming universal credit is unlawful.
Sidra Kauser, aged 22, from Halifax, suffers severe sight impairment and mental health difficulties. As a student in full time higher education at the University of York she is not entitled to universal credit.
She has a student loan but this does not even cover the cost of her tuition fees and rental accommodation. Instead, she is forced to live off her Personal Independence Payment, which is meant to be spent on the extra costs of living associated with her health conditions. She has £122 a month to live off, which has to pay for everything she needs, such as food and travel, clothing and socialising.
Sidra made an application for universal credit at the start of her master's course last year, following a deterioration in her health. The DWP refused to undertake a work capability assessment to determine her capability for work on the basis that she was a full-time student. Her application for universal credit was therefore rejected. She has now applied to the High Court for permission to judicially review the DWP's policy of refusing to assess the capability of full time students for work.
Sidra argues in her case that if she were granted a work capability assessment which would establish her limited capability for work under Regulation 14 (b) of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, then she would be entitled to claim universal credit of between £540 and £680 a month.
Students in full time education are prevented from having the work capability assessment under the DWP's policy. This means that if whilst studying, an individual is left with limited capability to work because they are struck down by an illness or suffer from a deterioration of a pre-existing condition, they have no means to claim benefits.
However, if Sidra had been assessed as having limited capability for work and had been claiming universal credit before she went into full time education, then she would have been able to continue claiming the benefit while she was continuing her studies.
The DWP says the purpose of the policy is to encourage existing claimants with health conditions to take up education that may help them get into work in the future.
Sidra argues that the failure to carry out a work capability assessment is irrational and unlawful.
"I want to be able to carry on with my studies, safe in the knowledge that I will be able to meet any extra costs I incur because of my disabilities.
"It seems totally illogical that if I had had a work capability assessment before I went to university and had been assessed as eligible for universal credit, then I wouldn't be in this position and would be able to carry on with my studies without the stress of worrying about whether I will be able to cope financially."
Disability Rights UK is supporting Sidra's claim and has been lobbying about the fact that disabled students are denied access to universal credit since 2017. The charity's Welfare Rights Advice and Policy Adviser, Ken Butler said he believed the policy could affect up to 30,000 disabled students.
Mr Butler said:
"Disabled people face additional costs than those without a disability, on average it amounts to £583 a month and unlike their non-disabled peers, disabled students are less likely to be able to find and undertake work to offset their costs. It is only appropriate and fair that disabled students should be able to claim universal credit."
Leigh Day solicitor Lucy Cadd said:
"Sidra believes that if she were permitted to have a work capability assessment, then she would be designated as having a limited capability for work and would be entitled to claim universal credit.
"Our client believes it is grossly unfair that the government's policy only sets out to support those already receiving universal credit to access higher education and does not seek to support those who are applying for courses or who are already in education. It is not acceptable for the government to expect disabled students to live on extremely limited financial means during their course of study which has huge ramifications on their health and education outcomes.
"Our client argues that the government's policy that she cannot have a work capability assessment is irrational and therefore unlawful."
Originally published 28 June 2020
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