Following discussions last week, I’ve come back to the question of what has happened to all the people who have lost their entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance after being found ‘fit for work’, and who have appealed the decision.
A year ago, the Tribunals Service was reporting a backlog of 220,000 cases relating to ‘social security and child support’. It was ‘running to catch up’ (evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on 7th May). In the last quarter of 2013, this had dropped to 155,000.
There has been a spectacular drop in the number of appeals, from possibly 37,000 in the month of March 2013 to less than 1,000 in March 2014. Part of this is due to a drop in the rate of assessment, but much of the change may be down to a change in rules last October, requiring cases first to go to ‘mandatory consideration’, then to be separately lodged with the Tribunals Service.
There are considerable delays. The DWP is taking 9 weeks on average, the Tribunals Service 20 weeks, so the whole process (if all goes well) takes on average 29 weeks. The Work and Pensions Committee heard evidence that this two-stage process may be a deterrrent, leading claimants to drop out – and Judge Robert Martin, the chair of the Social Entitlement Chamber, expressed concern that this was ‘unsupervised territory’ where the Tribunal has no say or influence.
How many people are being affected? The Unemployment Movement suggests that about half the current waiting list, 75,000, are ESA cases – but this does not include people going through the first stage reconsideration. About 10% of cases are withdrawn after being lodged with the Tribunals Service. In 2012, the UK Statistics Authority asked the DWP to “investigate the feasibility of presenting in the releases a time series of the number of outstanding appeals.” The DWP hasn’t done it but it has announced, tantalisingly:
DWP statisticians have identified a processing error with appeals data for the period June to December 2013 in the January 2014 and March 2014 publication. … A revision will be made to correct these figures in conjunction with the next release in June 2014. … In the interim, please treat data with caution.
The revision may have something to do with the current investigataion into these issues by the Work and Pensions Committee. I can’t claim to understand clearly what’s been happening with the numbers here, but it’s troubling to find that the DWP and the Tribunals Service don’t know either.