The government has started to work out how to make it harder to appeal, in line with powers brought in by the Welfare Reform Act which is now going through Parliament.

The proposed changes will NOT apply to housing benefit or council tax benefit but WILL apply to universal credit and pension guarantee credit, the benefits that will replace housing benefit and which will be administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

The government is going to make it compulsory to ask for a revision of benefit before you can appeal.

There are huge delays in getting appeal hearings because the number of appeals has gone through the roof.  This is mainly because of the fact that something like 40% of claimants who are refused sickness benefits appeal.  On average about 40% of these appeals are succesful.  This figure rises to something like 70% if claimants are to be represented.

Under current rules, when a claimant appeals the benefit payer automatically reviews their decision.  If they do not wish to change it the case is automatically sent on to the appeal tribunal.  This means that the claimant only has to take one action to get their case decided.

You might think that the sensible idea would be to improve initial decision making and to put more resources into making sure that appeals got heard quickly.  But the government is not doing this.

Claimants will have to ask the DWP for a review of their benefit.  The DWP will do this and let the claimant know the result.  The claimant will then have to send in a second letter appealing if they want to keep the matter live.

We know that claimants are reluctant to appeal now, even if they have a good case.  Where claimants have to take a second step to keep the matter alive they are even more likely to drop out.

The DWP has issued a consultation document. Key features outlined in it are:

1) They are not interested in discussing whether or not the change should be implimented, only how it should be carried out.

2) Further confusion will be caused because it is intended that appeals should normally be sent to the tribunals service in future, not the benefit payer, but if the claimant sends in an appeal to the tribunals service before requesting a review this will not be forwarded to the benefit payer.  Instead it will be sent back to the claimant.

3) At the moment a claimant can appeal within 13 months of a decision if the tribunal thinks that it is in the interests of justice to hear the appeal. (They frequently do).  But the proposals mean that a claimant will have to ask for a revision within a month of the decision unless they can prove that a very limited set of special circumstances apply.

4) There will be no time limits for the DWP to reply to a revision request.

5) Claimants will be able to appeal if the DWP revises the decision in their favour but does not give them all that they want.

The DWP wants responses to:
Appeals Reform Consultation Decision Making and Appeals – Legal Group Department for Work and Pensions The Adelphi, 5th Floor 1-11 John Adam Street London WC2N 6HT
Fax 0207 962 8541
The deadline is 4 May 2012.

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