The Free Representation Unit has recommended the abolition of an ineffective stage in the appeal process for sick and disabled social security claimants.
In a submission to the Work & Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee the FRU identifies that internal DWP Mandatory Reconsideration invariably lead to little change in the original decision and are therefore a waste of resources and an unnecessary burden on benefit claimants. FRU recommends that removing the review stage would streamline the appeals process, enabling a speedier resolution for hard-pressed claimants and saving the DWP time and money.
The Work & Pensions Select Committee has issued a call for evidence on the effectiveness of assessment processes used to determine eligibility for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Both benefits are aimed at supporting sick and disabled people. The Committee will hold hearings and issue a report making recommendations. Currently an appeal to an independent tribunal can’t be made until an internal review of the decision by the DWP has been undertaken.
In its submission to the Select Committee the charity identifies that the high success rates for claimants in formal appeals – around 70% of cases taken by FRU - suggests that the mandatory reconsideration stage provides little value. Most mantantory reconsiderations rely upon the same medical assessment that the original decision is based upon. In FRU’s experience claimants don’t send additional evidence to the DWP after failing to get a favourable decision, due to a combination of a lack of understanding about the process, the relevance of certain medical evidence, or that they can request new evidence from medical professionals.
In its evidence FRU states that independent appeal hearings in the Social Entitlement Chamber give an opportunity for claimants to explain their difficulties in front of an expert panel, which often reveals relevant evidence which had not previously been considered. Ultimately, the nature of the inquisitorial powers of the Tribunal (whether in respect of gathering evidence, providing medical, legal and administrative expertise in the context of social security law, or the Tribunal’s ability to take detailed oral evidence from the claimant), allow for a more holistic re-assessment of the Original Decision than the mandatory reconsideration could reasonably be expected to make.
FRU’s Chief Executive David Abbott said:
“Last year FRU represented over 450 people in social security appeal tribunals, with most of these cases concerning PIP or ESA decisions. FRU welcomes the Inquiry into PIP and ESA assessments. We have taken the opportunity of the inquiry to draw on our clients’ experience to highlight how the current system can be improved.
It is unfortunate that so many claimants feel that the decision on their entitlement isn’t right. So long as that is the case FRU recommends that the DWP mandatory reconsideration should be abolished and greater resource put into getting decisions right first time and ensuring that independent tribunals can be an effective route to resolving any disputes.”