SEISS eligibility proved to be a difficult issue for Rishi Sunak as a number of organisations and charities emerged in 2020 to challenge the Chancellor over the stringent rules. One group in particular, the charity “Pregnant Then Screwed”, even took Rishi to court over the matter and while they lost their original challenge, the charity confirmed today it would be launching an appeal.
SEISS eligibility has become a difficult issue for many self-employed workers, with Excluded UK highlighting as many as three million freelancers ended up ineligible for support. Under the original eligibility rules, a person would not be able to claim a grant if they traded through a limited company or trust and on top of this, those who had a new child may not be able to apply.
On that last point, Rishi Sunak was taken to court in late January to face discrimination charges.
The charity Pregnant Then Screwed, with support from Doughty Street Chambers and law firm Leigh Day, took the Chancellor to the High Court for discriminating against female applicants of SEISS.
The charity argued the eligibility conditions and calculation method chosen by the Chancellor had a discriminatory effect on women as they did not exempt periods of maternity leave.
According to Pregnant Then Screwed’s calculations, this affected around 69,200 women.
When it took this action, the charity called for the Chancellor to take immediate steps to alter SEISS rules so that time taken for maternity leave is discounted when average earnings are calculated.
In late February, Mrs Justice Whipple DPE handed down her verdict on the case and Pregnant Then Screwed lost their original legal challenge against the Government for discrimination due to the way the SEISS has been calculated.
However, today Pregnant Then Screwed detailed it had been granted permission to appeal the judgement of Mrs Justice Whipple.
Following advice from legal counsel, Pregnant Then Screwed explained it would be appealing the ruling on three grounds.
These three grounds are as follows:
- That the Court erred in concluding that there was no indirect discrimination against women who had not worked for reasons relating to pregnancy or maternity
- That the Court erred in failing to consider whether there was a failure to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different
- That there was an overly broad approach to justification by the Court in its ruling
The charity shared it had been granted the right to appeal on all three of these grounds.
Joeli Brearley, the CEO and Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, welcomed the news.
She said: “So many women, organisations and even politicians were outraged at the outcome of the verdict in February.
“Going to appeal isn’t a decision that we have taken lightly, but to allow what we see as such public discrimination to go undisputed just isn’t an option.
“The Government has a legal obligation to ensure none of their schemes have a disproportionate impact on anyone with a protected characteristic – the fact that women who have taken a period of maternity leave to do the most important job in the world – raising the next generation – are then subject to a lower payment is quite clearly discrimination and we hope the court of appeal will recognise this.”
Additionally, Anna Dews, a solicitor at Leigh day, commented on the appeal.
She explained: “This case is important, not only for the Claimants, but for so many self-employed women whose businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 because it is about the legality of the SEISS which was introduced last year, specifically to provide support to self-employed workers during the pandemic.
“The Claimants believe that the application of the SEISS eligibility had a disproportionately prejudicial effect on women who had been on maternity leave during the qualifying period and that legal test was not fully addressed by the court in the first instance.”
As it stands, SEISS claims for the fourth grants can be made up until June 1 and beyond this, a fifth set of grants will become available in the Autumn months.