In the run-up to the general election, civil servants sketched out plans to charge claimants a fee if they tried to appeal to a tribunal after being found ineligible for benefits, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.
The policy proposal was drawn up earlier this year, in case it could be used by the new government.
An extract from a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) document, which emerged through a DNS freedom of information request, suggests Tory ministers have not abandoned the idea of charging for benefit appeals, despite the proposal causing controversy when a DWP document was leaked to the Guardian in February 2014, with benefits experts and campaigners labelling the idea a “disgrace”.
The latest memo summarises the advantages and risks of introducing the policy, but civil servants insist it is not government policy.
A DWP spokesman said the extract was “drafted by staff before the last election in case this issue was raised by a new government”.
He said the issue “was not raised by the new government and does not represent government policy”, while the document has not been “shown to, sent to, or seen by ministers” since the new government was elected.
But there will still be alarm among disabled campaigners and benefit claimants that such a policy was being discussed within the department just a few months ago, particularly with next week’s spending review set to reveal swingeing new spending cuts across government, including within DWP and the Ministry of Justice, which runs the tribunals service.
Anita Bellows, a researcher with Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Most people going to appeal have already gone through the hoops of mandatory reconsideration, and because of this the number of claimants appealing to tribunals has dropped considerably, and in some cases, such as with ESA appeals, almost disappeared.”
She said: “Most if not all claimants going to appeal do so because they lost their benefits, whether through the work capability assessment, being found ineligible for personal independence payment, or being sanctioned.
“The notion that people deprived of income could afford tribunal fees is ludicrous and if tribunal fees are introduced they are very likely to be successfully challenged in court.”
The extract from the document emerged in response to a request by DNS for any written information relating to discussions about charging for benefit appeals.
The heavily-redacted document revealed – under the title “feasibility” – that fees for taking cases to employment tribunals had already been introduced, so charging for social security appeals was “possible”.
And it warned that such a policy would incur start-up and running costs, but “could contribute a proportion of the cost of running the tribunal system”.
The three other sections of the response – under the headings “legal”, “handling” and “political issues” – were redacted by DWP under section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which exempts departments from releasing information relating to the formulation of government policy.