Forcing sick and disabled people to have their benefit claim reconsidered in the event they disagree with the original decision is incompatible with human rights law, the High Court has ruled.
Changes introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) mean sick and disabled people who disagree with a decision on a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are required to ask for a “mandatory reconsideration” before they can appeal to a social security tribunal.
It is reported that around 400,000 ESA claimants have been forced to request this “reconsidation” on their ESA claim since 2013.
The crude policy enforced by the DWP means that ESA claimants are denied access to support while their claims are being reassessed, meaning thousands are forced to go without vital financial support or made to claim Universal Credit, or equivalent welfare support, whilst also being subject to possible conditionality requirements.
However, this latest victory offers a ray of hope for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, after the DWP reportedly confirmed that they will not appeal against the High Court’s ruling.
The DWP says it currently has no plans to remove the mandatory consideration phase from Universal Credit.
Marc Francis, director at the charity Z2K, said the mandatory reconsideration system has acted as a “barrier to justice” for ESA claimants, whilst describing the High Court’s ruling as “brilliant”.
“For too long, MR has been a barrier to justice,” he said. “Ministers must now fundamentally reform this discredited assessment and MR process.”
The case was brought by a 55-year-old benefits adviser, who was left without the financial support he needed for four months after disagreeing with a decision on his benefit claim.
Mr Francis decribed to the judge how the DWP’s decision to reject his original claim has left him in “legal and financial limbo distress and destitution”.
Defending his decision to take the DWP to court, he added: “My whole life, my whole vocation has been to fight to make sure the lives of vulnerable people are not denied.”
Summing up, the judge blasted the DWP for giving themselves an “advantage” over claimants, whilst adding: “There is no explanation for that.”
DWP statistics show that 82% of mandatory reconsideration decided in favour in claimants in April 2020.
The DWP said the department is “carefully considering” what to do next.
A spokesperson added: “Our aim is to ensure every claimant gets the right decision for them as soon as possible and the mandatory reconsideration process remains an important part of this.”