A freelance actor and director is taking legal action against a condition of the government’s Universal Credit scheme, claiming it penalises the self-employed.
Charmaine Parkin is working with Equity and solicitors Leigh Day to mount the High Court challenge, saying the scheme has left her worse off than if she were unemployed.
Parkin began claiming for Universal Credit after moving to Brighton last year. However, her claim was subject to the ‘minimum income floor’, which applies if someone is self-employed. This assumes a monthly income from the claimant’s self-employment based on the national minimum wage, irrespective of their actual earnings.
According to Leigh Day, Parkin earned just £96 one month, but was treated as if she had earned £788.26 and her Universal Credit payment was reduced by £375.64. In other months, she had no earnings and her expenses exceeded her income, but the MIF was still applied.
Parkin said: “Working in the theatre has always been my passion and it is what I am trained to do, but the nature of the work means that my earnings can vary a lot from month to month. I thought the Universal Credit system would help with this and allow me to top-up my income in the months when my earnings were lower, especially after I moved to a new town. I thought Universal Credit could give me financial stability, help me to budget and settle in. I was very wrong.”
She added: “The Universal Credit system has left me worse off than if I was unemployed, has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety and has left me seriously considering giving up my work in the theatre.”
Leigh Day is now applying to bring a judicial review against the MIF, which, it argues, is “unjustified discrimination” and “irrational”.
Equity added: “Those who are not self-employed are not subject to the MIF in UC and we argue this is disproportionate. Charmaine’s example is by no means the worst – other self-employed people may suffer even greater losses with the full MIF applied.”
It added: “We have been lobbying for years along with other unions and organisations to have the MIF abolished and we are therefore very pleased to be able to support our member and work with Leigh Day solicitors in launching a challenge in the High Court to this misguided and punitive policy.”
Leigh Day intends to issue a claim in court in the coming weeks. If a judge accepts it, the actor would be granted a full High Court hearing later this year.
Universal Credit is the government’s benefit policy that replaces a range of means-tested benefits including jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, tax credits and employment support allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions had not responded to The Stage when this article was published.