The Court of Appeal (COA) has dismissed claims by two women that their social welfare payments were wrongly reduced by taking into account mortgage payments on their homes made by their ex-partners.
The separate but related cases focused on the interpretation of the phrase “net cash value to the person of his or her annual housing costs” as used in the Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims Payments and Control) Regulations 2007.
The first woman, a mother of two and homemaker, applied for the One Parent Family Payment but was told by the Department of Social Protection that her payment would be reduced because her former partner was paying €1,161 per month towards the mortgage on the home she lived in with her children.
While she made no contribution to the mortgage, the house was jointly purchased by her ex-partner and the woman, who is a qualified nurse but gave up work to care for her children.
She appealed the decision to cut her payment. She argued that since the house she occupied was held in her and her ex-partner’s joint names, he also derived a benefit from the payments.
Therefore, she claimed, only 50 per cent of the payments being made by her ex-partner should be taken into account when assessing her means and this would have increased the payment she received.
The second woman, a carer for a son she had with her ex-partner, applied for disability allowance. However, it was reduced because her ex-partner was paying €647 a month for the mortgage on the house she and her son live in and which is in the sole name of her ex-partner. She pays no rent to him.
The deciding officer in her case found that because the full mortgage payment was made by her ex-partner, this was a non-cash benefit.
She also appealed. One of her arguments, also made by the first woman, was that there had been a different approach in a previous decision.
Both women separately brought High Court challenges against the Department’s decisions. In 2020, the High Court agreed with the Department’s decisions.
They then brought appeals to the Court of Appeal (CoA) arguing, among other things, the High Court had erred and that it was incorrect to equate “housing costs” with “net cash value”. The Minister for Employment and Social Protection opposed the appeals.
On Tuesday, dealing with the cases together, the CoA upheld the High Court decisions.
Mr Justice Donald Binchy, on behalf of the three-judge appeal court, said the interpretation by the Minister of “net cash value” [of housing costs] was consistent with the literal and ordinary meaning of the words used and yielded an exact result in every case.
The Minister’s interpretation was, in his view, consistent with the clear purpose of the relevant social welfare legislation which identified the criteria to be taken into account when assessing the means of an applicant for a particular benefit.
He dismissed the appeals.