UPL’s Charity Partner Could Change Law Around Universal Credit

Unite Professionals recently recognised the tight strain that food banks would experience during the coronavirus lockdown and have been making efforts to support our local food banks with donations.

This spring, we were able to make a donation to Taunton Food Bank and also were able to purchase a lap top for Compassion Acts, a charity that supports Southport FoodBank.

The Southport charity runs the Foodbank and a welfare advice centre. During the Coronavirus crisis, they have been able to help Foodbank clients manage their finances during this exceptionally difficult time.

The welfare benefits team supports clients to access benefits to which they are entitled. One person said, “I cried so much with relief 2nite. Not only the backdated money but the apology. If it wasn’t for your support and the lady there who gave me a hug I wld be dead as I was rock bottom.”

They also were able to change someone else’s life – and maybe even the law.

The team this week celebrated when their client – a benefit-capped Southport mother – won a High Court case against the DWP, which may change the law.

Compassion Acts has been supporting Sharon Pantellerisco for over a year with the legal challenge against the DWP. Following a relationship breakdown, Sharon, a working mum of three children, was required to apply for Universal Credit. She worked 16 hours a week at National Living Wage and was paid every 4 weeks.

As the Universal Credit system is designed to assess earnings across a calendar month, the DWP were underestimating her actual income each month, which resulted in her falling short of the income threshold to avoid the benefit cap. She instantly saw her monthly Universal Credit payment reduced by £463 per month. Had she been paid monthly, this reduction would not have been applied.

As Universal Credit severely reduced her income, Sharon was forced to use Southport Foodbank to feed herself and her family. Compassion Acts immediately raised this as an issue and challenged the DWP directly, also contacting ‘Child Poverty Action Group’ (CPAG), who agreed that Sharon was being discriminated against and sought a Judicial Review through the High Court.

Sharon said, “It is difficult to explain to somebody not in my situation just how devastating an impact it has had and continues to have.”

The Judge, Mr Justice Garnham said, “It would not be inconsistent with the overall UC scheme to devise an exception to resolve the problem.”

Compassion Acts Chief Executive Richard Owens said, “We’re delighted with the court case win and what it means for many more people. We couldn’t do our wide-ranging work, which is making a difference to so many people either through welfare advice or Foodbank, without amazing support from individuals and businesses. We would like to thank Unite for giving us a laptop so we can continue with these essential services.”

“Unite’s generous donation of a laptop to Compassion Acts has been a real lifesaver.”

Those who’d like to help support Compassion Acts can enter their photo competition in association with Stand Up for Southport, which is running until 30 July. Submit photos representing a scene or season from Southport and area at: www.compassionacts.uk/photography !