Localised Welfare: How to challenge unlawful schemes

The Government, as part of its welfare reforms, is placing greater emphasis on local support provided by local authorities. The rate and pace of change to meet this agenda however, has placed great pressure on local authority budgets and decision makers.

The changes creating this pressure include:

  • the abolition of the discretionary social fund
  • the abolition of council tax benefit
  • the replacement schemes
  • the increasing reliance on discretionary housing payments to mitigate the impact of cuts to housing benefit.

Despite these changes, there has been little direct case law or guidance for local authorities on how such schemes should be developed and operated. As a result, some local authorities have adopted policies and practices that appear to be unlawful. Often the only remedy for challenging such policies is by judicial review.  

Seminar content

The seminar will cover local authorities’ powers and duties to provide support in the following areas:

  • The Localism Act 2011
  • local social fund replacement schemes
  • discretionary housing payments
  • local council tax reduction schemes
  • local authorities’ duties under the Equality Act 2010, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and general public law principles
  • a short guide on challenging policies by judicial review.
  • Q& A and discussion: how can we coordinate challenges to unlawful local authority policies and encourage good practice?

Learning outcomes

Participants will be better able to:

  • identify policies and practices that may be unlawful
  • identify good practice
  • consider grounds for challenge
  • understand the procedure for challenging a local policy by judicial review


4 hours


Tom Royston is a barrister at Garden Court North chambers. With a background in Citizens Advice Bureaus and a Law Centre, he specialises in social security and discrimination law. He has a particular interest in public law challenges to local welfare support schemes. He regularly acts for claimants in challenges to Discretionary Housing Payment decisions, and is presently instructed by CPAG in R (Dowen & ors) v Sandwell BC, a judicial review of a council tax reduction scheme.

Desmond Rutledge is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers who specialises in public law and social security. He is the digest editor of the Journal of Social Security Law (Sweet & Maxwell) and a contributor to the welfare chapter in ‘Macdonald’s Immigration Law and Practice’.

Mike Spencer is a solicitor and is the Legal Officer for the Child Poverty Action Group. He represents CPAG and its clients in test cases on social security and related issues aimed at promoting the rights and incomes of families with children. Prior to joining CPAG, Mike was a solicitor for the Asylum Support Appeals Project, where he represented homeless and destitute asylum seekers.

Martin Williams is a welfare rights worker at CPAG. He is widely experienced in representing claimants at both levels within the tribunal system, having worked in the appeals team at Lasa from 2001 until 2008. Martin has also worked as a local authority welfare rights officer and in an independent advice centre. He is currently an author of CPAG’s Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit: the legislation.

Who should attend?

This seminar is aimed at welfare rights advisers, charity workers, local authorities wanting to develop good practice, and solicitors and barristers who help and advise people to apply for support from their local authority. The seminar will focus on challenging unlawful practices, policies and procedures by way of judicial review..


Herbert Smith Freehills

Exchange House, Primrose Street, London. EC2A 2HS

Refreshments provided

We will be providing lunch and refreshments throughout the day. Arrive at 10:00 for coffee and tea.