More disabled people are winning benefit appeals at tribunal

Date published: 15 November 2019

The number of people with illness or disabilities who won their cases when taking the government to court after losing out on benefits has almost doubled in the north west.

Analysis of Freedom of Information responses by the BBC Shared Data Unit show successful appeals in the north west rose from 37% to 69% over the five-year period between 2013 to 2018.

Overall in the north west region, there were 70,455 successful appeals heard at tribunal about disability, sickness and incapacity benefits out of 142,838 from December 2013 to 2018.

Charities and advice providers said the figures show the government’s benefits tests were beset by “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies”.

Most of the appeals concerned Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is paid to people who cannot work because of illness or disability; the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is paid to people with extra care or mobility needs; and Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which was introduced to replace DLA.

Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: “The reason for the high success rates in ESA appeals is because of the poor assessments carried out by health professionals.

“This is similar to what we see in PIP appeals, which also have a high success rate due to poor assessments carried out.

“The DWP tend to base their decision purely on these assessments and disregard other evidence sent in by the claimant.

“Tribunals will weigh up all the available evidence and talk to the claimant further, which enables them to make much more reasoned and balanced decisions.”

Initial assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the private companies Capita and the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos), which have come under criticism for scoring claimants too harshly. 

In 2017, Britain’s most senior tribunal judge, Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, also said the quality of evidence provided by the DWP was so poor it would be "wholly inadmissible" in any other court.

Capita and Maximus said the majority of people were satisfied with the process, and they were working with charities and disabled people's organisations to improve their services further.

The government says appeals represent a small percentage of all benefits claims it handles.

The number of appeals heard at tribunal across all benefits in the north west dropped 78% from 2013-14 to 2014-15, but has risen steadily since.

Experts say the initial reduction was down to the introduction of written reviews, so-called mandatory reconsiderations.  This is the first stage of the appeal process when claimants ask the DWP to look at the decision again.

Cuts to legal aid were partly responsible for the drop in appeals, charities said. Prior to 2013, lawyers could receive funding for legal help including advice, assistance and casework.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they are entitled to and spend £55bn a year supporting disabled people and those with health conditions. 

“We have been improving the assessment process and just 4% of all ESA decisions and 5% of all PIP decisions are overturned at appeal.”

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