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The woman who is taking Universal Credit to court

This article is over 4 years, 5 months old
Hated benefits rules left Nichola Salvato in debt over childcare costs. Now, reports Sadie Robinson, she’s on a legal crusade to have them overturned
Issue 2690
Universal credit is forcing people into debt
Universal credit is forcing people into debt (Pic: J J Ellison/Wikicommons)

A single parent is taking the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court over benefits rules that forced her into debt.

Nichola Salvato wants a judicial review of a Universal Credit (UC) rule that means claimants pay up front for childcare even if they are still ­waiting to receive their payments.

Parents can get up to £646 a month for each child they have under 16 to fund 85 percent of their ­childcare costs.

But they have to pay first and claim back the costs later—leaving some with huge debts.

“The cost of breakfast clubs and after school clubs can add up to hundreds or even thousands of pounds during the school holidays,” Nichola told Socialist Worker.

“As a single parent, I just don’t have a couple of thousand pounds lying around. I had to borrow from friends and family, and take out loans.”

Nichola said the experience was “very, very stressful”.

“There’s a constant worry,” she said. “Requesting adjustments to my working hours was stressful.”

Her case exposes the lie that UC “makes work pay”.


“Borrowing wasn’t enough to pay for my childcare costs, and so I had to reduce my working hours,” said Nichola.

“That frustrated me. The government says the aim of UC is to help people into work.”

Figures show that around 50,000 households, including 42,000 single parents, were claiming childcare costs under UC last August.

The number could reach 500,000 as more people are moved onto the hated benefit.

Nichola is seeking permission for judicial review of the law. Her legal challenge is backed by the Save the Children charity.

She argues the rule is unlawful, discriminatory and breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

Save the Children’s Becca Lyon said the rule “causes unnecessary hardship to parents on low incomes—the majority of whom are single mothers”.

Nichola said, “The legislation doesn’t say that women have to pay up front. But the demographic of people claiming for childcare are single parents, and they are ­overwhelmingly women.

“I’ve been inundated with messages from people suffering because of this rule, saying thank god ­someone is doing something about it.”

Nichola expects to hear whether her challenge will go to a high court hearing in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, she is gathering case studies of how UC has affected people.

“If people want to get in touch and have their story included, they can do that anonymously,” she said.

“Winning a change in the rule would make an enormous difference.”

If you’d like to help with Nichola’s legal challenge, you can contact her on [email protected]

Man starved to death after benifits were stopped

The family of a disabled man who starved to death in Nottingham after the government stopped his benefits fear a “cover up” over his death.

Errol Graham weighed just four and a half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had arrived to evict him from his home.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had stopped his Employment and Support Allowance in 2017. His housing benefit was also stopped, leaving him with no income.

A Serious Case Panel will look into Errol’s case. The DWP had said the panel includes “independent members”. It later clarified, “They will be independent of the case, not necessarily the department”.

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And it refused to say whether the review would be shared with Errol’s family. Errol’s daughter in law Alison Turner said, “They all work for the DWP so it’s not independent. They are going to look after the interests of the DWP.” She fears a “deliberate cover up”.

An inquest into Errol’s death heard that it is standard DWP procedure to stop benefits of a claimant deemed vulnerable after two failed attempts to visit.

Yet the DWP stopped one payment due to be credited on the same day it made the second attempt to visit.

Errol suffered mental distress and starved to death aged 57. His body was found in June 2018.

The DWP had failed to seek medical evidence from Errol’s GP before stopping his benefit. 

Assistant coroner Elizabeth Didcock said it should have got more evidence from his GP to “make a more informed decision about him”. But she did not demand changes to DWP safeguarding procedures as the DWP said it was already reviewing them.

Several other disabled people have died after the DWP failed to secure further medical evidence or to check on their welfare before taking away their benefits.

Errol’s case came to light because Alison contacted Disability News Service (DNS). She told DNS, “It’s truly shocking what the system does to people.”

Errol’s ex-partner Diana Burton said, “If DWP hadn’t stopped his money, he would still be here today. It’s like they are above the law.”

Tories guilty of discrimination

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling that the government unlawfully discriminated against thousands of severely disabled people impoverished by Universal Credit (UC).

It dismissed a Department for Work and Pensions challenge to two High Court decisions.

These cases, brought by disabled claimants known as TP and AR, protected claimants who received severe disability premiums against a drop in income under UC.

Tell the Tories what you think 

Parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry that will partly look at how UC has impacted on claimants.

The committee has invited anyone with “experience or expertise” of UC to get in touch. The deadline for submissions is 29 February.

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