Blind student, 22, wins Universal Credit legal fight that could help ‘30,000 people’

It comes after a campaign by Sidra Kauser (not pictured – file photo) (Image: Getty Images)

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A disabled student has defeated the government in the High Court after she was barred from claiming Universal Credit.

Sidra Kauser’s legal victory may now help up to 30,000 other people stranded by the same benefits loophole, her lawyers say.

The 22-year-old from Halifax, who is mostly blind, had to switch from disability benefit ESA to Universal Credit when she moved accommodation last year.

Unlike most students, those who have “limited capability for work” are able to claim Universal Credit.

But in a bizarre Catch-22 situation, Sidra was told she could not undergo a fit-for-work test – because she is a full-time student.

That meant she couldn’t be labelled as “limited capability” and couldn’t get UC – even though she was eligible for it.

There was a bizarre Catch-22 situation in the Universal Credit rules

The High Court has now quashed the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions and said Sidra should be assessed for UC.

A top judge found the DWP breached its own Universal Credit regulations dating back to 2013.

The DWP has also been ordered to pay her £12,000 in legal fees.

Sidra said: “I am glad I decided to take a stand and pursue my claim for judicial review.

“Hopefully other students will benefit from the court ruling.”

The student’s lawyer Lucy Cadd, of Leigh Day, encouraged up to 30,000 other students in the same situation to contact the DWP and ask afresh for Universal Credit.

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Lawyers also “hope” the DWP will choose to review all those past cases on their own initiative.

But only those who were refused a fit-for-work test before August 5 this year can apply or have their case reviewed, lawyers say.

That is because, since Sidra launched her legal challenge, the DWP has changed the law to close the loophole.

The lawyer said: “It has been estimated by the charity Disability Rights UK that the Secretary of State’s unlawful policy, which has been in operation since 2013, could have adversely affected 30,000 disabled students.

“Other disabled students who were refused a work capability assessment prior to 5 August 2020 and therefore lost out on their claim for universal credit, should ask the Secretary of State to revise her decision.

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“Although the DWP has callously changed the regulations to prevent more disabled students being entitled to a WCA, there may be scope for legal challenge to the new regulations.”

Sidra, who was studying a Masters in Psychology at University of York, was left paying for food, clothes and travel from the separate disability benefit PIP, and forced to borrow money from family.

She told the Mirror she has the progressive eye condition retinitis pigmentosa, can barely see out of one eye and cannot see at all out of the other. She is also diagnosed with anxiety and depression, she said.

She said: “It’s a loophole that a lot of people get stuck in.

“You can’t be eligible until you have the assessment – but if you’re a student, you can’t be assessed. It’s so frustrating.”

She added: “A lot of my friends have part-time jobs and that’s not something that would be feasible at all for me.

“I pay for taxis and transport, assisted tech and it all adds up.

“In my studies, everything takes longer. It can take me hours to do what might take someone else half an hour.”

The DWP has been contacted for comment.

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