The government could face a legal challenge to its plans to cut disability benefits by £2 billion. Disability Alliance, a coalition of some 250 disability charities and organisations, and law firm Unity Law have issued a 'letter of claim' to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over proposals to cut disability living allowance (DLA) support for people with disabilities.

The letter focuses on whether the DWP can demonstrate that the impact of proposals has been properly analysed and begins a formal process which may see DWP face full legal proceedings. The main concerns of the Disability Alliance are that that current plans will disproportionately disadvantage disabled people and their families, including proposals to:

  • Abolish low-rate care DLA support, which is received by 652,000 people who have provided evidence of impairments/health conditions and are acknowledged to be 'disabled' by DWP
  • Reduce projected DLA expenditure by 20% (or £2.17 billion)
  • End DLA mobility support for disabled care home residents without clarity on how potential losses in support for the 78,000 people directly affected (and their families) will be mitigated.

The legal challenge is based on the Disability Alliance's belief DWP may have failed to pay due regard to the disability equality duty pursuant to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, s49A or responsibilities arising under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in plans to abolish DLA for working age disabled people (16-64 years of age).

Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance said: "Disability Alliance has sought to avoid taking legal action and we are still keen to avoid legal processes. Our concern is that disabled people may experience significant hardship, exclusion and ill health as a direct result of DLA cuts. But these concerns have gone unanswered in a year of discussion with DWP. Our options are limited and disabled people's anxieties and the potential costs to governments are very real."

A survey by the Disability Alliance in February found significant concern among people with disabilities and their families over the proposals, with 56% of the people in work (27% of the respondents who answered this question) said they would have to stop or reduce work if they lost DLA.

Disability Alliance members supported taking action now rather than waiting for the impact to be felt directly by disabled people. "We hope that the Government recognises our charitable aim of breaking the link between disability and poverty, disabled people's concerns and the views of our members," Coyle said. "We hope DWP responds positively to our action and acts now to avoid fears being realised." Chris Fry, managing partner of Unity Law added: "This is the most significant reform to welfare benefits of our generation, which is being driven through parliament without due regard for legal process. It's morally right that the people affected by the proposals have the right to test the way in which these proposals are being formulated."