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Single mum to take Universal Credit case to Supreme Court

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Written by: Emma Lunn
21/10/2021
Nichola Salvato plans to ask permission to take her claim about upfront Universal Credit childcare payments to the Supreme Court.

Salvato, 49, took the government to court after getting into £2,000 worth of debt trying to pay for childcare. Working parents on Universal Credit can claim up to 85% of childcare costs worth £648 for one child and up to £1,108 for two children.

The current rules mean that working parents on Universal Credit have to pay for childcare costs out of their pocket and then claim the money back. Parents can’t claim the money without proof of payment

Salvato won her claim in the High Court in January, arguing that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) policy that parents who receive Universal Credit should meet their childcare costs in advance was ‘discriminatory and irrational’.

However, the DWP appealed to the Court of Appeal, which ruled in its favour. It found that while the ‘proof of payment’ rule does indirectly discriminate, the difference in treatment is justifiable and the rule is not irrational.

Mother-of-one Salvato has decided to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court because she believes her case raises issues of public importance that warrant its consideration. She believes the DWP should have to justify why a less intrusive measure like requiring an invoice rather than a receipt could not be used.

Her claim raises a serious and wide-ranging social problem in that the proof of payment rule is liable to prevent parents, particularly women, from getting into work. Latest figures suggest 500,000 working parents are affected by the Appeal Court ruling.

Salvato’s legal team will argue that Appeal Court judges were wrong to reject the High Court ruling that the proof of payment rule is disproportionate and wrong to say that Mr Justice Chamberlain took a mistaken approach when he said the DWP should have explained why it had rejected proof of liability as an alternative to the rule.

Salvato brought a judicial review against the ‘proof of payment rule’, arguing that it put her in debt and forced her to reduce her working hours. The judge said the rule was irrational and subjected Salvato and other mums in her situation, to indirect sex discrimination, contrary to Article 14, read with Article 8, and Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Salvato took her case to the High Court in September 2018 after she began working full time as a welfare rights adviser for a housing association and needed childcare for her then 10-year-old daughter.

Although she was working full time, Nichola couldn’t afford the £377.40 of upfront childcare costs that arose in September and October, so she had to borrow the money.

Salvato said: “Although I’m very disappointed that the Court of Appeal did not uphold the High Court ruling, I am hopeful that that the Supreme Court will address the issue. So many of us single parents want to work but find the upfront childcare costs through Universal Credit an impossible barrier, meanwhile the government continues to support better off families with their childcare costs in advance via the tax-free childcare system.

“The system is clearly discriminatory, and the Court of Appeal agrees that it is discriminatory, but has said the government is entitled to discriminate unless I can show that there is an easy and better way. I don’t think that is correct and I will continue my fight to get our voices heard. Affordable, accessible childcare support is fundamental to our infrastructure if the government want to achieve higher levels of employment among single mums and reduce child poverty.”

Nichola’s legal challenge was supported by Save the Children, Gingerbread, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) who continue to support her case as she asks for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Carolin Ott, Salvato’s solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said: “Our client believes that the current system of childcare payments to parents who claim Universal Credit is causing great hardship to many others besides her and for that reason her application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is of great public importance.

“She believes that it should be for the Secretary of State to show why an alternative measure requiring an invoice rather than a receipt cannot be used in circumstances where requiring proof of payment is discriminatory. It is hoped that Nichola’s case, and that of thousands of other parents, can be made at the Supreme Court.”

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