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THOUSANDS STAND TO GAIN FROM DISABILITY ALLOWANCE RULING

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Case no: CO/1772/96 ...
Case no: CO/1772/96

A partially blind Swansea man who had his disability living allowance payments frozen by the government because of a legal dispute over entitlements, has won a resounding high court victory in his battle to have them restored.

Yesterday, quashing the decision of social security secretary, Peter Lilley, to suspend 18 year-old Paul Sutherland's payments Mr Justice Laws said he had exceeded his powers.

After the hearing in London Mr Sutherland's solicitor, David Thomas, said the ruling had implications for 'tens of thousands' of other claimants denied the 'middle rate care component' of disability living allowance in similar circumstances.

He said: 'The secretary of state has used the power which he claims to have in over 50,000 cases according to a parliamentary answer.

'The effect of this judgement is that he does not have the power to do that; we would therefore urge the department of social security to pay that part of the money wrongly withheld from these claimants.' The judge said of Mr Sutherland's condition: 'He has had a serious sight defect since birth. He has a detached retina in the right eye, he has to avoid the risk of knocks to the head or sudden jerks, and must not dive into water.

'There are very many things he is unable to do on his own, he requires a considerable degree of care.' Mr Sutherland is now a student at Aberystwyth University.

The court challenge stemmed from a decision by a social security adjudication officer in January last year that Mr Sutherland was entitled to the mobility component of disability allowance at a higher rate than before, with effect from October 1994.

The lower rate which Mr Sutherland had previously been paid is worth £12.90 per week, while the 'middle' rate awarded to him by the adjudicator is worth £32.40 a week.

But at the same time the government Benefits Agency decided to suspend Mr Sutherland's enhanced payments while awaiting a court of appeal ruling in a different case to shed light on whether he and many others were entitled to the higher rate.

Mr Sutherland's counsel, Richard Drabble QC, argued that the terms of the 1987 Social Security Claims and Payments Regulations did not give the secretary of state power to freeze payments in the way he did.

And Mr Justice Laws agreed that the regulation which purported to give Mr Lilley power to suspend the payments ran contrary to statute and was unlawful.

Mr Thomas later commented: 'Since the regulation was introduced in 1992, the secretary of state has suspended benefit in similar circumstances in tens of thousands of cases.

'It always seemed to us quite wrong that claimants should not be denied ongoing benefit - to which they have a legal entitlement - just because a court in another case might at some time in the future interpret the law differently 'We hope the DSS will immediately pay over benefit wrongly withheld from Paul and all the other claimants affected.' Mr Sutherland's case was backed by the Child Poverty Action Group.

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