It has long been suspected by many that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has set targets for certain decision, whether that be the number of sanctions imposed or claimants found fit for work. But in a recent response to a Freedom of Information request the Department actually disclosed that it has a target for the number of Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) decisions that are upheld.
MR was introduced in 2014 for all benefits where there is a right of appeal to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Previously, if you disagreed with a DWP decision you could appeal to the tribunal, who would look at it again. Now you must first ask the DWP to ‘reconsider’ their decision before appealing.
Since the introduction of MR the experience across the advice sector has been that decisions are rarely, if ever, changed. For example in the hundreds of ESA and PIP appeals where we have represented claimants we have only seen a decision changed at MR six times. This is also reflected in the statistics that show that 87.5% of decisions are not changed at MR. Now we know the reason why. The DWP has revealed it has a ‘Key Performance Indicator’ (i.e. target) for MRs, under which ‘80% of the original decisions are to be upheld’(emphasis added). On this basis the DWP’s decision makers are performing admirably!
There are many reasons why this revelation is so disturbing. The benefits in question are statutory, meaning that if a claimant meets the eligibility criteria they have a legal right to the benefit. Under our judicial system if you feel you have been incorrectly denied what you are legally entitled to then you have a right to appeal. But the MR ‘Key Performance Indicator’ undoubtedly means that many claimants are being arbitrarily denied a benefit in order to meet a target. As Sir Henry Brooke, former Court of Appeal Judge and Z2K patron, wrote on his blog:
“This appears to be an absolutely outrageous interference by the executive with the rule of law.”
There also arises the question of how this target was formulated in the first place. How did the DWP arrive at the figure of 80%? Did it conduct a detailed analysis of its decisions and conclude that on average only 20% were incorrect? Or did it pick an arbitrary figure that would coincidentally help it to save money? If the DWP were to attempt to estimate how many of its disputed decision are indeed incorrect it could do worse than to look at the statistic for successful appeals at tribunal. Unfortunately for the DWP the latest statistics show a 63% overturn rate for appeals to the Social Security tribunal, rather more than the 20% enforced by the MR target.
The DWP has since claimed that PIP is excluded from this Key Performance Indicator. But the statistics show that for new PIP claims 85% of decision are upheld at MR, while 79% are upheld for DLA reassessments. It must be a coincidence then that these figures are so close to the 80% target.
When MR was first proposed by the DWP we opposed it on the basis that it was an unnecessary extra step which would simply serve to lengthen an already elongated process. Given DWP’s already poor decision-making record, we were also unconvinced that it would provide claimants with proper redress without the need to resort to a formal appeal. This revelation has gone beyond our initial concerns to totally discredit MR as viable means of claimants accessing the benefit they are entitled to. Given this Z2K sees no other alternative than the immediate abolition of MR.