Ahmed Adiatu v HM Treasury

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
JudgeLord Justice Bean,Mr Justice Cavanagh
Judgment Date15 June 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] EWHC 1554 (Admin)
Docket NumberCase No: CO/1636/2020

[2020] EWHC 1554 (Admin)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Lord Justice Bean

Mr Justice Cavanagh

Case No: CO/1636/2020

The Queen on the application of

Between:
(1) Ahmed Adiatu
(3) Independent Workers Union of Great Britain
Claimants
and
Her Majesty's Treasury
Defendant

Ben Collins QC, Eleena Misra, Nadia Motraghi and Rachel Owusu-Agyei (instructed by Leigh Day) for the Claimants

Julian Milford QC, Rupert Paines and Ben Mitchell (instructed by Government Legal Department) for the Defendant

Hearing date: 11 June 2020 (on Skype for Business)

APPROVED JUDGMENT

Mr Justice Cavanagh

Lord Justice Bean and

1

This is the judgment of the court to which we have both contributed.

2

This claim for judicial review arises from the unprecedented circumstances arising from the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic, which at the time of the hearing before us had been the cause (or a cause) of the deaths of more than 40,000 people in the UK and many hundreds of thousands of people around the world. In particular it is brought in the interests of those workers whose incomes are seriously affected by stringent social distancing measures imposed by the Government, generally referred to as the “lockdown”, which began in March 2020. The claim challenges certain decisions made by the Treasury in relation to the availability of support by way of Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“JRS”).

3

The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (“the IWGB”) is a trade union with around 5,000 members. Mr Adiatu, the First Claimant, is a member of the IWGB.

4

Mr Adiatu is Nigerian and has leave to remain with the requirement that he has “no recourse to public funds”. He is a private hire driver for Uber and latterly also for two other private hire operators. His income decreased dramatically in March 2020 and he could not afford to pay for his private hire vehicle licence renewal in April 2020 so is now unable to work, and has fallen into rent arrears. He has a wife and four children aged from 7 months to 12 years, two in the UK and two in Egypt. In his first witness statement he understandably described his financial situation as “dire and terrifying”. More recently he has received a payment under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (“SEISS”), but the financial pressures on him remain severe.

5

Originally, there was a Second Claimant, Mr Monshur Ali. By consent, Mr Ali withdrew from the proceedings after successfully applying for Universal Credit (“UC”) and obtaining an offer of self-employed work.

6

Uber drivers such as Mr Adiatu were held by the Court of Appeal in Uber BV v Aslam [2018] EWCA Civ 2748; [2019] ICR 845, to be workers within the scope of s 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (though an appeal by Uber from that decision is shortly to be heard by the Supreme Court). Such workers occupy an intermediate status between those working under a contract of employment and the genuinely self-employed. The universal, if inelegant, abbreviation used by lawyers (and by the Government in some official documents) is “limb b workers”.

7

The Defendant is the Government Department primarily responsible (with the Department for Work and Pensions, “DWP”) for decisions in relation to the JRS, SSP and the SEISS.

8

The Claimants seek declarations that the Defendant's decisions in relation to the treatment of workers in the context of the pandemic (in particular in relation to SSP and the JRS) are discriminatory contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), EU law, and/or were taken in breach of the public sector equality duty under s 149 of the Equality Act 2010. They do not seek quashing orders, but rather ask the Court to require the Defendant to review and remake its decisions.

Chronology of the pandemic

9

On 29 January 2020 the UK's first two patients tested positive for COVID-19. On 28 February 2020 the first transmission of COVID-19 within the UK was confirmed.

10

On 12 March 2020 the Prime Minister held a press conference and stated that from 13 March 2020:

“…if you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild – either a new continuous cough or a high temperature – then you should stay at home for at least 7 days to protect others and help slow the spread of the disease.

We advise all those over 70 and those with serious medical conditions against going on cruises and we advise against international school trips.

At some point in the next few weeks, we are likely to go further and if someone in a household has those symptoms, we will be asking everyone in the household to stay at home.”

11

On 16 March 2020 the Government issued advice to UK citizens to work from home where possible and to avoid pubs and restaurants. The following advice was also given:

“Today, we need to go further, because according to SAGE [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] it looks as though we're now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve. And without drastic action, cases could double every 5 or 6 days. So, first, we need to ask you to ensure that if you or anyone in your household has one of those two symptoms, then you should stay at home for fourteen days.

That means that if possible you should not go out even to buy food or essentials, other than for exercise, and in that case at a safe distance from others. If necessary, you should ask for help from others for your daily necessities. And if that is not possible, then you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.”

12

On 17 March 2020 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced measures to support business including loans, tax arrangements and grants.

13

On 20 March 2020 it was announced that all pubs, restaurants, gyms and other social venues would close. On the same day the JRS was announced. It was further announced that the UC allowance would be increased such that it would be paid at a rate equivalent to the rate of SSP.

14

On 23 March 2020 a nationwide “lockdown” was announced. The Prime Minister announced that people would only be permitted to leave their homes to buy food, exercise once a day or go to work if they could not work from home, and that these restrictions would be enforced by fines.

15

The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020. The next day the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020/350 were made, and the SEISS was announced.

16

Recently there has been some easing of the lockdown: it is not necessary to go into the details for the purposes of this case.

The Job Retention Scheme

17

On 15 April 2020 the Defendant gave a Direction in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 71 and 76 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, known as The Coronavirus Act 2020 Functions of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) Direction (“the Direction”). The JRS is set out in a Schedule to the Direction.

18

The key provisions of the JRS are as follows:

(1) The JRS is a temporary scheme. It was initially in place for 4 months starting from 1 March 2020 but has recently been extended and modified. It is available wherever an employer furloughs its employees “by reason of circumstances arising as a result of coronavirus or coronavirus disease” (paragraph 6.1(c) of the Direction).

(2) The original terms of the JRS provided that employers who furlough employees may apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, plus employer's national insurance contributions and the minimum automatic enrolment amount in respect of pension contributions on the subsidised furlough pay, at the rate of 3% of an employee's income above £520 per month from 6 April 2020.

(3) The rules of the JRS as originally laid down provided that while on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf of, the organisation or any linked or associated organisation: “work” includes providing services or generating revenue. This is to be modified as the support under the JRS is gradually phased out, to enable furloughed workers to resume work on a part time basis.

(4) For the purposes of the scheme, “employees” includes limb b workers only if they are paid by PAYE.

(5) Employees can be on any type of employment contract including agency, flexible or zero hours contracts.

(6) If contractually allowed, employees are permitted to work for another employer or to volunteer whilst they have been placed on furlough.

(7) Foreign nationals are eligible to be furloughed as are employees on all categories of visa. Where foreign nationals have leave to remain in the UK subject to the condition that they must have “no recourse to public funds”, grants under the JRS are not counted as public funds.

(8) If an employee is on sick leave or self-isolating due to coronavirus they will be able to obtain SSP subject to fulfilling other eligibility conditions.

(9) Employers can furlough employees who are being shielded (that is to say who are confined to their home because of a particular vulnerability), need to stay home with someone who is being shielded, off on long term sick leave or have caring responsibilities. If a non-furloughed employee becomes ill, needs to be self-isolated or be shielded then the employer may qualify for the SSP rebate scheme, enabling the employer to claim up to 2 weeks of SSP per employee.

(10) Employees with more than one employer can be furloughed for each job. Each job is separate and the cap applies to each employer individually. Employees can be furloughed in one job but continue working for another employer and receive their normal wages.

(11) For employees with variable pay who have been employed for a full year, employers will claim the higher of either: (i) the amount the...

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