Single mum will fight Universal Credit childcare rules in the Supreme Court

Nichola Salvato, 49, backed by a string of charities, will take her case to the UK’s highest court as she asks justices to rule the system of paying up-front for childcare is discrimination

Nichola Salvato plans to fight Universal Credit childcare rules in the Supreme Court

A single mum will take her fight against Universal Credit childcare rules to the Supreme Court.

Nichola Salvato won a landmark victory in January – when a High Court judge ruled the policy of forcing claimants to pay for childcare first, then claim back the costs later, discriminates against women.

But last week the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling and ruled in favour of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Judges said there was enough evidence that women were worse-hit to raise a case of indirect discrimination. But they found the discrimination was “objectively justified”.

Now a coalition of charities who have backed Nicola, a 49-year-old benefits advisor and mum-of-one from Brighton, will head to the UK’s highest court.

They will ask for a final ruling that could help tens of thousands of parents, some of whom struggle to pay four-figure up-front bills for nurseries.

“The system is clearly discriminatory,” said Nichola

Nicola said: “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.”

Parents on Universal Credit can claim 85% of the cost of childcare, up to a cap of £646 per month, for each child under 16.

But they must pay up-front and claim the costs back later, which leaves parents facing four-figure bills.

Nichola struggled after moving jobs in September 2019. She was forced to cut her hours and borrowed £2,000 from payday lenders and family to cope with childcare costs for her 12-year-old daughter.

Nichola, whose case was first revealed by the Mirror, has won the backing of Save the Children, Gingerbread, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

Dan Paskins of Save the Children said: “We have campaigned with parents on this issue for years.

“They have told us this unfair system is forcing them to run up debts, face financial hardship, or even drop out of work altogether because they can’t afford to pay childcare or nursery fees in advance.

“We look forward to supporting the appeal process in the hope that this fundamental flaw in the system can be fixed.”

A High Court judge originally backed Nichola’s claim that the rules were “irrational” and contrary to Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said the rules making Nichola prove she had already paid – rather than prove she’d run up a bill – “contributed materially to making her financially worse off”, and added to a “cycle of debt” and “psychological effects”.

The judge added that because most people claiming childcare costs under UC are female, “the decision has a disproportionate effect on women”.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned his ruling, saying the original judge made a “material error” and had “deficiencies in the reasoning” behind the judgement.

As of August 2020 there were 52,000 households claiming childcare costs under UC, of which 42,000 were single parents.

A DWP spokesperson said after the Court of Appeal ruling: “We welcome this judgment.

“The Universal Credit system reimburses claimants for up to 85% of childcare costs, which is significantly more generous than the previous benefits system.

“We have introduced a comprehensive support package for working parents, including the Flexible Support Fund which can offer further childcare support for those starting work, and our £500m Household Support Fund is helping families who need further support to pay for the essentials this winter.”

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