Stevenson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWCA Civ 2123
The Court considered whether the disabled appellant had been unlawfully discriminated against because the benefit paid towards her mortgage interest, which she received as a component of her income support, was capped by reference to a loan limit of £100,000, rather than the higher loan limit of £200,000 introduced for all new income support claimants after Jan 2009. The Court also looked at whether the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was required to include a “carve out” to the rule for disabled people to permit them to take advantage of the higher loan limit because they were entitled to take loans out after the January 2009 date, whereas non-disabled people were not.
The Court dismissed the appeal. It accepted that being a longstanding – rather than new – claimant for income support was a sufficient “status” within ECHR, art 14 to require justification of the differential treatment. However, the Court accepted the Secretary of State’s submission that it was legitimate to introduce the new limit by reference to one date in the interests of cost (at a time of general financial stringency in the public sector), administrative convenience, and the need to ration scarce resources, which would usually provide a sufficient justification for “bright line” tests of that nature. This fell within the broad margin of appreciation permitted to States in the field of social policy. The introduction of any cut-off date for the introduction of an enhanced social security benefit was bound to have a differential impact on those who do, or do not, fall on the right side of the line, and there was no evidence of hardship to disabled people overall in the scheme’s application. The Secretary of State’s approach was therefore not “manifestly without reasonable foundation” in ECHR, art 14 terms.
Zoë Leventhal was involved in this case.