The SSAC review of Mandatory Reconsideration

The Social Security Advisory Committee has published a review of Mandatory Reconsideration.  It is a much better report than the press release suggests, because it reviews in detail the problems and issues that claimants have in getting decisions reviewed and corrected.  However, the headline element in the Conclusion, picked out by the press release, is that “Properly conducted, Mandatory Reconsideration could be an efficient process that provides opportunity for timely review, the admission or reinterpretation of evidence and the avoidance of costly tribunals.”  That is very questionable.   Support for the principle of MR confuses the arguments for internal review – which is always necessary for quality control and management of mistakes – with the new, failing system, which delays and obstructs the opportunities for internal and external review.

There are three very fundamental problems with MR.  The first is that decisions made against a claimant are implemented before any response or contrary case has been considered.  The second problem is that MR does not offer claimants the opportunity to know of and respond to information relating to their case.  This is a basic breach of ‘natural justice’, one of the core principles of UK law.  The third is that because MR is a mandatory process for claimants, there  is necessarily a delay in correcting unlawful action: barriers to access are obstacles to justice, and justice delayed is justice denied.

It is debatable, then, whether the system of Mandatory Reconsideration is lawful.  Because judicial review is only available when other recourse has been exhausted, MR would have to be complete before a judicial test would be possible, and the long delays in implementation make this a considerable obstacle.  But it does stand in breach of long established principles of administrative law.  That is why the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights has just condemned the UK system for “the absence of due process”, in breach of its obligations under the UN Charter.  Mandatory Reconsideration cannot be ‘properly conducted’ – it is designed to be improperly conducted.

2 comments

  1. David Webster

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The SSAC have ignored the fundamentals of the issue and indeed the title of their report ‘Decision Making and Mandatory Reconsideration’ is misleading since they have not seriously considered decision-making (which is the main issue) at all. In the case of JSA sanctions, 75% of challenges are successful but only 24% of sanctioned claimants make any sort of challenge. This indicates wrong initial decisions and failure of redress on a massive scale. As you point out, the fundamental problem is that claimants are stripped of their benefits in advance of any hearing. To this I would add the disgraceful abolition of independent decision-making by the Social Security Act 1998, which leaves ministers free to manipulate the system as they wish.

    • Nick Taylor

      On a (only slightly separate) issue to MR, are either of you – Prof. Spicker/Dr Webster – aware of what is happening with the previously proposed pilot for ‘yellow card’ sanctions? It is impossible to find anything on this, except for a few news pieces from October last year announcing the pilot was to take place in Scotland this year. Is it still happening? I assume it hasn’t already taken place…Thanks in advance for any clues.

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