Three disabled claimants have launched a legal action to challenge the government’s more stringent tests for mobility allowances that came into force on Monday.  The decision to seek a judicial review of the regulations emerged as the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, complained that there had been a surge in fresh claims ahead of the tougher rules.

Up until Monday claimants who could not walk 50 metres were entitled to disability living allowance (DLA). The new social security (personal independence payment) regulations 2013 (PIP) reduce the distance to only 20 metres. As a direct result, an estimated 51,000 fewer people could be eligible for payments.

Other changes to mobility benefits could eventually lead to as many as 428,000 claimants losing their entitlements, according to the government’s own estimate.

The legal challenge is being run by the law firms Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors who argue that the official consultation process did not mention the new limit would be reduced to only 20 metres.

One of the three claimants cannot be identified because of an anonymity order. The other two are Kim Storr and Steven Sumpter. Storr, who relies on crutches, has rheumatoid arthritis and other severe progressive conditions; her mobility is affected by joint swelling and pain. She currently receives DLA, including the higher rate of the mobility component. She needs an adapted vehicle to enable her to go out independently.

Sumpter suffers from ME which causes him increasing mobility problems. He can walk short distances with a stick, but is otherwise dependent on a wheelchair. He was assessed as eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA last year, which he has used to lease a Motability car.

Rosa Curling, a solicitor with Leigh Day who is representing two of the disabled clients, said: “We have advised our clients that the consultation undertaken by the secretary of state was unlawful. People were not properly informed that the limit might be reduced to 20 metres and had no opportunity to provide … their views on this proposal.

“Removing this vital benefit to disabled people will have a devastating effect on many people’s lives and their ability to access and be part of our communities. The secretary of state has a legal obligation to consider such impacts before deciding whether to limit access to this benefit.”

Karen Ashton, of the Public Law Solicitors who represents Sumpter, said: “What is at the heart of this legal challenge is fairness. The extra costs of getting out and about for those who have severe mobility problems can be huge.

“The higher rate mobility benefit can make the difference between being able to do everyday things that everyone else takes for granted – such as doing your own shopping and visiting friends and relatives – and only leaving the house for absolutely essential appointments.

“But the government failed to mention the reduction to the 20-metre threshold in their consultations with disabled people and so those who are potentially affected have not had the chance to explain how devastating the consequences will be.”

Defending the new PIP regulations, Duncan Smith said it was “ridiculous” that under the old disability living allowance (DLA) more than two-thirds of recipients were guaranteed payments for life, regardless of whether their condition improved.

He told the Daily Mail: “70% of people on it have lifetime awards which means no one sees you ever again. It doesn’t matter if you get better or your condition worsens – it’s quite ridiculous.

“We’ve seen a rise in the runup to PIP. And you know why? They know PIP has a health check. They want to get in early, get ahead of it. It’s a case of ‘get your claim in early’.” More rigorous new health checks for claimants were “common sense”, he added.

The Guardian