Andy Jackson, Project Caseworker
Peter came to one of our drop-in sessions with a friend. He’d claimed PIP and had had his claim cancelled due to him missing a medical assessment. Peter lives in West London, and had been told to attend an assessment in Milton Keynes, over 50 miles away. Peter has severe brain damage and is not able to manage his own appointments. His friend helps him with all of his paperwork, and arranges all of his appointments for him. Peter’s friend bought them both return tickets to Milton Keynes from Euston, however the entire line was down that day and all trains were cancelled.
When asked for an explanation of why Peter had missed the assessment, his friend provided the DWP with a copy of his train ticket and explained about the train cancellations that day. If a claimant misses a compulsory appointment, they must show “good cause” as to why. Apparently, there being no trains to Milton Keynes from London that day did not constitute “good cause”, even though a quick Google search would have confirmed the chaos on the Milton Keynes line that day. Despite this, the DWP again refused to change the decision at Mandatory Reconsideration. We lodged an appeal on Peter’s behalf.
During our meeting, Peter also mentioned that he’d not been paid ESA for over 6 months. A quick phone call to the DWP revealed that his Incapacity Benefit claim had not been properly shut down, and so his ESA payments were being blocked. Because of his medical condition, Peter had no idea this had happened and did not have the means to resolve it himself. A payment covering the past 6 months of ESA was swiftly issued, and a complaint is now being pursued by our Right First Time caseworker. All in all, Peter had been without any income at all for 3 months, through absolutely no fault of his own.
His PIP appeal was passed to a judge, who took the highly unusual step of deciding the case without an oral hearing without informing either party. The decision made for interesting reading! Although not required to give a detailed explanation of their reasoning unless requested, the judge in Peter’s case was so incensed by the DWP’s handling of the case that he decided to do so anyway. His judgment is scathing:
“The Secretary of State’s decision that he did not have good cause to attend the consultation is so heavily against the weight of the evidence as to be irrational in the legal sense. In other words, no reasonable decision maker could lawfully have made the decision on the evidence”.
“In those circumstances, the appellant obviously had a good reason for failing to attend the consultation in Milton Keynes. How does the decision maker think he ought to have got there? Walk? Fly, perhaps?… It is particularly disappointing that the decision was confirmed on mandatory reconsideration and that the response writer did not revise it. What point is there in having mandatory reconsideration if it is merely going to rubber-stamp decisions that are clearly unsustainable?”
The judge went on to “strongly recommend” that Peter should draw this to the attention of his MP and should seek compensation under the DWP’s Financial Redress for Maladministration scheme. He even included a link to the website!
Z2K have lobbied for many years to improve the standard of decision making at the DWP. So many of the appeals that we represent in are absolute “no-brainers”, with Peter’s case being an extreme example. Regardless of the enormous and unnecessary stress and financial hardship this imposes on our clients, it is also a shocking waste of public resources for many of these cases to proceed to a full tribunal hearing. Why did it take over four months and the intervention of a District Judge for Peter’s straightforward matter to be resolved?
The judge in Peter’s case is clearly as exasperated as we are, and in my experience this is not uncommon amongst social security tribunal judges (see this speech to the Bar Council made by the Senior President of Tribunals Sir Ernest Ryder – https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilydugan/most-dwp-benefits-cases-which-reach-court-are-based-on-bad?utm_term=.yuddL53pN#.lkWvX9D83). Perhaps with the judiciary joining their voices to the chorus of criticism the DWP may have no choice but to seriously review their assessment and decision-making practices?