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11 June, 2020 Open access

Charity takes first step towards legal action against discriminatory nature of Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

Pre-action protocol letter sent to the Chancellor argues that scheme has a disproportionately negative impact on vulnerable new mothers

Campaigning charity Pregnant Then Screwed has taken the first step towards legal action against what it says is the discriminatory nature of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

In a pre-action protocol letter sent to the Chancellor, the charity argues that the scheme has a disproportionately negative impact on vulnerable new mothers because it does not exempt periods of maternity leave from its eligibility conditions and when calculating trading profits - 

'Pregnant Then Screwed argue that the SEISS is unlawful on a number of grounds including that it indirectly discriminates against women who have taken maternity leave and, alternatively, discriminates against women who have taken maternity leave by failing to treat their situation differently to people who have not. They believe this is in breach of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They also believe that the scheme breaches section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 by indirectly discriminating against women who have taken maternity leave. Lastly the group argue that the Chancellor failed to give due regard to the impact the SEISS eligibility conditions would have on women, thereby breaching his duty under s.149 of the Equalities Act 2010.'

NB - self-employed women who did not carry on trading due to maternity leave in the tax years 2018/2019 or 2019/2020 are excluded from SEISS altogether, and women who did not trade, or did so at a reduced level, during maternity leave between the tax years 2016/2017 and 2018/2019 receive a lower SEISS payment by reason of their pregnancy and maternity.

Represented by Leigh Day Law, solicitor Anna Dews said today -

'The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis that effects everyone. Its impact, however, is not equal. Our existing health and socio-economic inequalities mean women in particular are bearing the brunt of this health emergency in many different ways. The financial support package put in place by the government must not add to this negative impact. Our client is calling for its immediate reform and for its current discriminatory approach to be removed.'

A response to the pre-action protocol letter has been requested by 4pm on 12 June 2020. If no satisfactory response is received, consideration will be given to commencing judicial review proceedings.

For more information, see Pregnant Then Screwed takes first step towards legal action against COVID-19 self-employment scheme.