The proportion of sickness benefit claimants who successfully appeal against an adverse decision is at its highest ever level, new figures show.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Thursday, show that the percentage of successful Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals made during April to June last year increased to 53%.
This is greater than the previous record set in 2013 and two percent higher than for the previous three months, raising yet further concerns about the accuracy and fairness of ‘fitness for work’ tests.
However, the DWP says that although the proportion of successful appeals is on the rise the total number of appeals has fallen dramatically.
Changes to the appeals process, introduced by the former coalition Government in October 2013, has seen the number of appeals taken to tribunal fall to just 1,300 for the quarter April to June 2014 . This compares to 5,000 ‘fit for work’ decisions a year earlier in the quarter April to June 2013.
Under the new system, if a person believes an initial decision on their ESA claim is wrong they must first ask for that decision to be reconsidered, before they can escalate the case to a social security tribunal. The new process is known as ‘mandatory reconsideration’.
The report says: “The number of appeals has been decreasing and the percentages for the quarter April to June 2014 are for 1,300 Fit for Work decisions with a completed appeal. This compares to 5,000 fit for work decisions a year earlier in the quarter April to June 2013.
“In addition, the proportions for more recent months are likely to change when the outcomes of appeals still to be heard are included.”
Despite a marked fall in the number of appeals, charities have repeatedly expressed concerns about the accuracy of Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and what that means for those people affected.
Responding to today’s figures, Rossanna Trudgian, the charity’s head of campaigns at the mental health charity Mencap, said: “There is widespread acknowledgement that the Work Capability Assessment is a deeply flawed test and today’s figures undoubtedly confirm that the WCA is still failing the people it is designed to support.
“The fact that 53% of Fit for Work decisions are being overturned following an appeal is deeply concerning and further evidence of how the WCA is in need of a ‘fundamental redesign’, as acknowledged by a previous Select Committee Report.
“We hear from many people with a learning disability who during the WCA are asked questions they don’t understand and aren’t offered the support they need to answer questions correctly.
“Wrong decisions are disturbingly commonplace and the percentage is showing no sign of improving – causing fear and anxiety amongst people with a learning disability.”
When we take the outcome of mandatory reconsideration and appeals into account, DWP figures show that 75% of claimants were entitled to ESA.
Within this group, 13% were placed in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA and 62% of claimants were placed in the Support Group.
Contrary to what you may read in some sections of the media, who may not be accounting for the outcome of appeals and mandatory considerations, only 1 in 4 (25%) ESA claimants were assessed as ‘fit for work’ during October to December 2014.
Figures published last month revealed that 2,650 people died within six weeks of being found ‘fit for work’.