The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent more that £120 million of taxpayers money contesting benefit appeals brought by sick and disabled people in the last two years alone, new research reveals.
The UK government introduced a system of ‘mandatory reconsiderations’, seemingly designed to reduce the number of contested claims that are taken before a social security tribunal, in the hope that more decisions can be corrected as quickly as possible without the need for judicial involvement.
However, official DWP figures show that in spite of this change more than three in four decisions on Personal Indendence Payments (76%), including those made after the reconsideration stage, are over-turned in favour of claimants.
The same data also reveals that 75% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have also been overturned at the tribunal stage over the same time period.
Analysis by The Independent also shows that the DWP splashed out £61 million on benefit appeal staff, in what appears to be a cruel and deliberate attempt to deny sick and disabled people the financial support they desperately need – compared to £44 million in the previous two years.
Stephen Timms (Labour), chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, told The Independent that the new figures demonstrate the “continuing failure” of the DWP to get decisions right “in the first place”, whilst also highlighting the “devastating” impact that these incorrect decisions are having on vulnerable people.
He said: “Rather than fighting these cases at tribunal, knowing it is likely to lose, the department could save itself a great deal of money and effort by simply paying disabled people the benefits they’re entitled to in the first place.”
Analysis suggests that government spending on mandatory reconsiderations increased by 19% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, and the cost of tribunals rose by 64%.
Ceri Smith, head of policy and campaigns at disability equality charity Scope, said assessments for PIP and ESA are “not fit for purpose”, adding that disabled people are “facing agonising delays to get vital support”.
Ken Butler, Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser at Disability Rights UK said: “A decade of austerity driven welfare reform has led to the obscene situation where the DWP is seemingly spending more money defending wrongful disability benefit claim decisions than it is on disabled people’s benefits.
“Both ESA and PIP assessments have been strongly criticised by disabled people ever since their introduction – often on the grounds that the health care professionals used no nothing about their disability and that their resulting reports are also inaccurate.
“Recent DWP figures show that the success rate for PIP mandatory reconsiderations is 57% and for ESA mandatory reconsiderations more than 80%.
“While its welcome that mandatory reconsideration decision making is at last improving, it highlights that the root of the problem remains the poor assessment examinations and reports of the private sector health care providers.
“Yet in July, Atos, Capita, and Maximus PIP and WCA assessment contracts were actually increased by up to two years.
“Medical assessments for benefits need to be removed from private contractors as soon as possible and brought in house.
“But more fundamentally, we need widespread reform of the benefits system so that it is no longer based on conditionality and sanctions but on dignity, inclusion and the social model of disability and that ensures a quality of life that is more than the bare minimum.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “ESA and PIP complaints have dropped by a quarter in the last two years, indicating increased satisfaction with our services.
“The data on expenditure has not been quality assured to National Statistics or Official Statistics standards and should be treated with appropriate caution.
“We are committed to helping people get the support they are entitled to.
“Decisions are made based on all the evidence we receive at the time, but if someone disagrees they can appeal and provide further evidence through a mandatory reconsideration.”