Callous Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) officials considered plans to begin charging sick and disabled to challenge benefit decisions, a secret internal document reveals.
The document seen by Mirror Online reveals how officials believed the introduction of social security tribunal fees, mirroring those for employment tribunals, “could contribute a portion of the cost of running the tribunals system” – requiring claimants to pay to challenge potentially inaccurate benefit decisions.
Only due to sheer incompetence has the document come to the attention of the media. Because bungling officials failed to redact it correctly, which would have protected the secrecy surrounding the proposals.
Officials also considered reducing appeal times from 12 to 6 months and draconian measures to cut the number of successful appeals, at a time when more than 50% of decisions are being over-turned in favour of the claimant at appeal.
They even planned to ‘remove payment of ESA (Employment Support Allowance) pending appeal’.
Last month, the Public Accounts Committee warned of “serious failings” with the benefit assessment system, with too many assessments failing to meet required standards.
Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP said “poor performance has had a tangible human impact”, and called for “a renewed focus on improving the quality of assessments”.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen Smith MP, said the document proves the Tories are “determined to make like harder for disabled people”.
He told Mirror Online: “This secret document shows the inner workings of a department that seems determined to make life harder for disabled people and low-wage working families.
“No wonder they wanted to charge disabled people for appealing against decisions to cut their support, when more than 50 per cent of those appeal are successful.
Charities have reacted angrily to the revelation, which they say would restrict disabled people’s right to access justice and overturn incorrect decisions on benefit entitlement.
Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, said: “It’s deeply concerning that anyone in the DWP thought these policies were acceptable.
“If introduced they would block disabled people’s ability to seek justice and challenge benefit decisions made against them, taking away the support they desperately rely on to find work and to maintain their independence and health.
“The assessments system for people with a learning disability is already broken, with over half of Fit for Work decisions being overturned by tribunal.”
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “The best way to reduce the number of appeals is to improve assessments – not make it more difficult to for disabled people to challenge incorrect decisions.”
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “A benefit system that focuses on people has to be accountable and have fair and accessible mechanisms for appealing benefit decision”.
She added: “We hope that charges for appeals, cursory paper-based reviews, or any change that would restrict access to justice will not see the light of the day. “
A DWP spokesperson said the document and its proposals has never been seen by ministers and “do not represent Government policy”.