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DWP spends almost £40 million contesting disabled people’s right to ESA

29 August 2017

An investigation by The Independent has revealed that the DWP has spent £39 million in an “appalling” attempt to stop disabled people receiving benefits they are entitled to.  

See news story in The Independent

Worse still, that cost only refers to those incurred by the DWP and does not include the yet unverified money spent by the Courts and Tribunals Service which carry out the appeals. 

The Independent says:

“It emerged earlier this year that government officials are given targets to reject four out of five initial appeals – known as mandatory reconsiderations – for some disability benefits.

Further data obtained by The Independent under Freedom of Information law shows the Government then spent a further £17million fighting cases in the courts that were not settled at the initial appeal stage, bringing the total appeals process cost to £39 million last year. 

In the same period the Government lost 62% of the tribunal cases in which it was attempting to sanction a claimant’s ESA …

They also lost 65% of the cases in the latter half of 2016, the most recent period for which figures are available, relating to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a longer-term benefit.

It adds that the defeats suffered by government lawyers are not persuading ministers of the need to change tack, with the figures actually pointing to a more costly appeals process in 2017:

“The Government spent £1,166,459 trying to take benefits from ESA claimants between January and March 2016, and £2,069,849 in the same period this year – a 77% rise.

Meanwhile, the proportion of cases where judges found that claimants were too ill to work also increased. In the first three months of last year judges decided in favour of claimants in 58% of cases.

That figure rose to 70% in the same period this year, suggesting the Government is denying payments to more people who are genuinely unfit to work.”

Currently ESA and PIP assessments are contracted out to private firms Maximus, Atos and Capita which do not require employees performing the assessments to have relevant expertise in specific disabilities.

This means for example that physiotherapists and paramedics assess disabled people with have with mental health problems.

Responding to the Independent, a DWP spokesperson said that:

“In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more oral or written evidence.”

However, Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights Officer said:

“Inaccurate assessments too often denied disabled people justice until their independent tribunals.

The problem is that things go wrong at the very start and then they’re hard to put right.

If the assessments were better, then you wouldn’t have the need for mandatory reconsiderations. The system now only functions really to put people off going any further – the whole process is quite lengthy and stressful."