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.