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Claimants launch legal action over new disability test

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Three disabled claimants have launched a legal challenge to the Government against the new personal independence payment (PIP) regulations.

The High Court must decide whether the stringent mobility tests, which replace disability living allowance (DLA), are legally challengeable. This follows the recent complaint from the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, that ‘there had been a surge of fresh claims before the introduction of the tougher rules.’

Up until this week, claimants who could not walk 50 metres were entitled to DLA. The new PIP regulations reduce the distance to only 20 metres. It is expected that the new regulations may result in almost half a million (428,000) disabled people losing their benefits. The High Court must now decide whether the case merits being given permission to proceed to a full hearing.

The legal challenge is based on the claim that the Government may have broken the law in its consultation process by not informing people that the limit could be reduced to 20 metres. This means that there was no opportunity for interested parties to provide their views on the proposal.

Currently, the DLA high-rate mobility component is the primary benefit that people with severe mobility-related disabilities rely on to be able to get around and lead active lives in their communities. It is argued that without winning the high-rate mobility component, a disabled person can be effectively house-bound, losing access to their work and contact with their family, friends or the community.

Here in the Social Welfare department at Stephensons, I have seen first-hand the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when they have had the high-rate mobility component stopped. However these decisions can be reversed as they are often met by high rates of success on appeal from an independent tribunal.

It is argued that if the Government had properly publicised its intention to reduce the eligibility threshold of the PIP mobility component from 50 metres to 20 metres during the consultation period then it would have found out how severe an effect the decision could potentially have on the lives of those with mobility-related disabilities. This action alone brings the legality of the consultation process into question.

There will undoubtedly be a great deal of pressure on the High Court to fall into line with the Government's welfare reform program in a climate of austerity. Should the judges decide that the consultation was unlawful then the court will face the difficult question of what can be done about a flagship policy that is currently being implemented, with some commentators arguing that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the court could send the Government back to the drawing board.

By Kelly Faulkner