Social Welfare Appeal G0111

Year: 2020

Type of Social Welfare: Disability Allowance

Deciding Body: High Court

Title of Payment: Disability Allowance

Date of Final Decision: 2020

Keywords: Disability Allowance; Means Test; Non-Cash Benefit; Mortgage Repayments; Legislative Interpretation; Equal Treatment of Similar Applicants; Precedent Decisions; Judicial Review; Regulation 142; Regulation 143

Organisation who represented the Claimant: Citizen’s Information

Casebase No. G0111

Case Summary:

This case is that of Margaret Bracken v. Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection [2018] No.165 J.R (2020 IEHC 394). It was heard with the case of Deirdre Brennan v Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection [2018] No.76 J.R. Casebase Report No. G0112 details the latter decision.

This case concerned an application to quash the respondent’s (the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s) decision to take into account the applicant’s ex-partner’s mortgage repayments on the house in which the applicant resides when assessing the applicant’s means in the context of her application for disability allowance.

The applicant resides in a house which is in the sole name of her ex-partner, and on which her ex-partner pays a mortgage repayment in the amount of €647 each month. The applicant lives in the house with her son, who is also the child of her ex-partner. She pays no rent and her residency is not the subject of a tenancy agreement.

The applicant was granted disability allowance in August 2017, but in determining her means as part of this application, the respondent took into account the monthly mortgage repayment made by the applicant’s ex-partner. The applicant appealed this decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office and in doing so relied in part on a previous decision of the Chief Appeals Officer in 2015, in which an applicant in similar circumstances had only 50% of the relevant mortgage repayment taken into account (the “Precedent Decision”). The Social Welfare Appeals Office refused the appeal in November 2017, which decision the applicant then sought to have reviewed by the Chief Appeals Officer. The Chief Appeals Officer subsequently refused to revise the decision of the Social Welfare Appeals Office, by way of a written decision issued on 21 December 2017. The applicant then sought to judicially review this refusal in the High Court.

Before the High Court, the applicant argued that she was not challenging the legislation but instead the respondent’s interpretation of the legislation, which she said was irrational and arbitrary. She argued that the respondent failed to treat similar applicants equally and this is demonstrative of a fixed and inflexible policy. Additionally, no adequate interpretation was provided by the respondent in relation to the difference between ‘housing costs’ and ‘net cash value’. The core issue was the proper interpretation of the phrase “the net cash value to the (applicant) of her annual housing costs actually incurred and paid by a liable relative insofar as the cash value exceeds €4,952 per annum” contained in Regulation 142 of the 2007 Regulations, and monthly mortgage payments do not come within the meaning of non-cash benefit.

The respondent argued that the statutory provisions allow both cash income and any non-cash benefits which a claimant may reasonably be expected to receive during the year, whether as contributions to the expenses of the household or otherwise to be taken into account. Non-cash benefits include the net cash value to the relevant claimant of his or her annual housing costs actually incurred and paid by a liable relative. Mortgage repayments do come within the meaning of non-cash benefit.

The Court’s decision focused on the question of statutory interpretation and ultimately found that giving the contentious words their ordinary meaning, the respondent had correctly interpreted the legislation and mortgage repayments come within the definition of housing costs and the meaning of non-cash benefits. The Court further found that adequate and understandable reasons had been provided by the Respondent.

The Court therefore refused the applicant’s application to quash the respondent’s decision.

Key conclusions:

Mortgage repayments come within definition of ‘housing costs’ and within the meaning of a non-cash benefit, and will be taken into account when determining a claimant’s means.