Disabled people are almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
DWP has this week refused to explain why the success rate for disability benefit appeals at tribunal has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.
The figures, based on Disability News Service (DNS) analysis of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, cast yet more doubt on personal independence payment (PIP) and how it has been managed by ministers since its introduction.
But they also raise concerns about the overall quality of decision-making in DWP – both on PIP and disability living allowance (DLA) – and the apparent push to remove benefits unlawfully from as many disabled people as possible in the name of austerity.
And they raise fresh concerns about the performance of outsourcing companies Atos and Capita, which are being paid hundreds of millions of pounds to assess PIP claimants.
The DNS analysis of MoJ figures from the last decade shows that the proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of DLA claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
But in every year since 2010-11, that success rate has increased, to 40 per cent in 2011-12, 41 per cent in 2012-13, then to 42 per cent, 49 per cent, 56 per cent, 58 per cent, 60 per cent, and finally 66 per cent in 2018-19.
Meanwhile, the rate of tribunal success for claimants of PIP, which was introduced in 2013 to gradually replace DLA for working-age claimants, has risen from 26 per cent in 2013-14, to 50 per cent in 2014-15, to 61 per cent the following year, and then to 65 per cent in 2015-16 and 68 per cent in 2017-18.
The latest figures released by MoJ this month show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.
This is almost twice the rate of success of DLA claimants in 2010-11.
Figures for the latest quarter – April to June 2019 – show the PIP rate of overturn has continued to climb even further, and has now reached 75 per cent, the same as the rate for employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.
DWP has repeatedly tried to argue that only about four or five per cent of all PIP claims are eventually appealed successfully.
But many rejected claimants do not challenge the benefit decision handed to them by DWP, with DWP’s own research – published last autumn – showing that hundreds of thousands more claimants would have taken further steps to challenge the results of their claims if the system was less stressful and more accessible.
The rate of success is also far higher for appeals against PIP claims that have been completely rejected, with DNS revealing earlier this year that one in seven (14 per cent) of all rejected PIP claims is eventually overturned, either at the mandatory reconsideration stage – where DWP civil servants review decisions, if requested – or at tribunal.
Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said the increase in the proportion of successful appeals showed that DWP was “making more and more wrong PIP entitlement decisions”.
She said: “And as mandatory reconsiderations and the hoops that PIP and other claimants have to go through are real barriers to access to justice, the number and percentage of wrong first time PIP decisions have to be much higher.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, showing that not only the assessment in itself is flawed, but DWP staff are not complying with the law.”
Yesterday (Wednesday), DWP refused to offer an explanation for the increase in the proportion of successful appeals over the last decade, and refused to say if the figures showed the department and its contractors had been trying increasingly to find people unfairly ineligible for DLA and PIP in order to cut spending.
But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want people to get the right PIP outcome as quickly as possible.
“That’s why we have introduced a new approach to gather evidence so that fewer people have to go to appeal, and we have recruited extra staff to help reduce waiting times.”
He said this related to a “new operational approach where we are proactively contacting claimants to gather additional oral and written evidence during a mandatory reconsideration for PIP”.
Picture: Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary between 2010 and 2016
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