The money could be ‘much better spent providing the support that disabled people need to take part more fully in society’ – Chaminda Jayanetti reports
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The Government has been accused of a “staggering” waste of money after it emerged that it is spending nearly £50 million a year processing appeals against rejected applications for disability benefits.
The annual outlay would be enough to fund nearly 8,500 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) disability benefit payments for a year, based on the average annual PIP award.
A response from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to a written parliamentary question shows that it spent £48.1 million in 2021/22 on staffing costs to manage appeals relating to PIP.
This has remained consistent over time, with the DWP forking out £48.7 million in 2020/21, £51.1 million in 2019/20, £44.5 million in 2018/19, and £50.4 million the year before that. In that time, the success rate of applicants fell from 67% to just 52%.
PIP is the disability benefit designed to help with the extra living costs incurred by people with long-term disabilities or mental health conditions.
Byline Times has previously reported on disabled people failed by the PIP assessment process. In one case, a disabled person died after spending two years waiting for a tribunal hearing for his appeal against the DWP’s refusal of his PIP application.
In another, a man with terminal cancer had his application rejected and had to wait through a months-long appeals process before the DWP finally conceded 10 minutes before his tribunal was due to take place.
Linda Burnip, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is staggering that the DWP flippantly waste so much taxpayers’ money fighting claimants’ appeals and legal challenges through the court system. This money could be much better spent providing the support that disabled people need to take part more fully in society.”
The DWP’s expenditure on the appeals system mostly comprises staffing costs and relates to the two stages of the PIP appeals system – Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) and tribunal appeals. It includes DWP presenting officers, who attend some tribunals.
The initial MR stage involves the DWP re-examining its original decision. Applicants rarely succeed at this stage – the DWP reversed its decision in just 12% of cases in the first six months of 2022/23, leading many disability organisations to dismiss MRs as just a way for the DWP to exhaust applicants so that they do not proceed to a full tribunal appeal, where their success rate is far higher at nearly 70%.
Anela Anwar, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Z2K, said: “Every year, our clients and tens of thousands of others have to challenge and then appeal DWP’s flawed decisions to get the disability benefits they’re entitled to.
“This means months of uncertainty and financial difficulty for them, as they have to not only manage their disability or condition, but also get by on inadequate basic rates of benefit until their appeal is heard. And it means pointless cost to the public as DWP tries and fails to defend its initial decision.
“The upcoming Health and Disability White Paper must commit to fundamental reform of assessments processes to ensure decisions are made right first time and end the culture of disbelief that sees disabled people denied their legal entitlements.”
The DWP’s annual expenditure on staffing its appeal process is split between the MR and tribunal phases. Until recent years, most of this has gone on tribunals but from 2020 onwards the balance has shifted to spending on MRs – 51% of the total in 2020/21 and 59% in 2021/22.
A DWP spokesperson told Byline Times: “We support millions of people with disabilities each year and always work to provide a supportive and compassionate service. We have made improvements to our decision-making process and in the majority of cases make the right decision.
“Our disability assessors are all qualified health professionals and decisions are made using all the information available to us at the time, but if someone disagrees with that decision then they have the right to ask for a review.”
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