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Video and telephone welfare benefit appeal hearings and Disabled people: new research

06 December 2021

Over the summer of 2021, Islington Peoples Rights (IPR) carried out research with welfare benefits advisers all over the country who had experience of representing Disabled people at tribunals held by phone or video, and a small number of Disabled people who had challenged their benefits decisions at tribunals.

The results showed that holding tribunals in this way can work for some Disabled people, but brings plenty of pitfalls and does not work for all.

IPR’s most important recommendation from its research is that everyone challenging a benefits decision at tribunal must be offered a genuine and informed choice of format, including a face-to-face hearing.

Among problems identified with remote hearings include:

  • Problems clients hearing and being heard;
  • Problems understanding how to join video sessions were also common and difficulty or lack of confidence were common reasons why clients chose to join video calls through their telephones;
  • Stress: 60% of clients who attended remote tribunals said they became stressed or upset. 34% said they had felt isolated or alone during their remote hearing.
  • Lack of communication between advisers and clients: 35% of clients said they could not communicate with their adviser during their remote tribunal.
  • Many advisers also expressed concerns that remote tribunals, although preferred by some Disabled clients, might put them at a disadvantage, as the severity of their condition was less apparent than at a face-­‐to-­‐face hearing.

Among the key findings IPR make are that:

  • Telephone and video tribunals can work for some Disabled people if they are supported and represented by a specialist advice service;
  • But many experience problems – remote tribunals are not always the best option;
  • It is essential that all Disabled clients are offered a choice of format including the option of a face-­‐to-­‐ face hearing in a reasonable timeframe;
  • Remote tribunals could be improved through changes to systems and guidance, as well as judges allowing time for breaks during the hearings;
  • Telephone hearings appear to work less well than video hearings. Barriers to video hearings should be tackled, but the telephone option should still be retained for those who need or prefer it;
  • More research is needed into whether the format of the tribunal has an impact on the likely outcome i.e. whether clients are less likely to win their cases at remote hearings.

The IPR full report Remote Justice? Virtual benefits tribunals and Disabled clients is available from ipradvice.org.uk.

A short briefing document that summarises the key points from the report also available from ipradvice.org.uk.