A controversial change to the new reforms and restrictions affecting tax credit claimants has been passed without parliament having the chance to either debate or vote on the matter. This particular reform, which has become known as the “rape clause,” is proving highly controversial with many opponents being especially critical of the way the government virtually bypassed parliament in approving the law.
As of 6th April this year, significant changes to how new claimants are assessed for tax credit eligibility will come into effect. Under the new system, parents will usually only be entitled to claim tax credits for up to two children. Two exceptions will be made; multiple births, and cases where a mother who already has two or more children falls pregnant again as a result of rape.
The “rape clause” refers to this latter exemption, under which the mother will have to prove to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that she was raped in order to claim the full financial support to which she is entitled.
Opponents have a number of concerns about the way the exemption for rape victims is set up. The fact that the people in question have experienced rape, and especially the fact that this was the circumstance of their child’s conception, is naturally very sensitive information. In many cases, it is something the child may not themselves find out about until later in life, so there are concerns about how appropriate it is to require victims to have this fact registered with the DWP in order to claim the financial support they are eligible for.
There are particular concerns about the need for victims to prove that the child was conceived as a result of rape in order to make their claim. Not only could this could be a potentially difficult and distressing process for somebody who is already dealing with a difficult time, but many critics have pointed out that the process that will be used for verifying conception through sexual assault is currently not well defined. Although the changes are weeks from coming into effect, there have been no details released about how a person might make a claim, how they could prove their entitlement, and whether anybody has been traind to make the assessment properly.
From a legal standpoint, the key source of controversy is the way that there was no parliamentary debate and no vote by parliament to decide whether these changes should be passed into law. The comprehensive reforms were instead passed through a channel known as a statutory instruments, which allows amendments to be made to existing laws without the approval of parliament.
One opponent of the law, SNP MP Alsion Thewliss, has accused the government of using an “underhand parliamentary tactic” to push the reforms through without subjecting them to proper debate and scrutiny. The lack of clarity on the process of claiming under the “rape clause” or proving eligibility, she said, was “frankly astonishing” when the reforms are so close to taking effect. Thewliss has tabled a motion that could potentially see the moves overturned.