Wiganers could be on to a winner in benefits cases
As many as two in three Wiganers taking the government to court after losing out on benefits could be winning their cases, data shows.
Analysis of Freedom of Information responses showed 66 per cent of cases handled at the Liverpool processing centre, which deals with the borough’s hearings, ended with the claimant successful between April and December 2018.
For people contesting disability or illness-related appeals the figure was even higher, with 69 per cent of cases successful last year.
And the researchers suggested that the fairly uniform picture of cases going against the government across the country means it is highly likely the success rate for Wiganers is around the same.
The shocking research shows that in a five-year period more than one in two people have won their case against having their benefits reduced or stopped.
That means more than a half a million people were wrongly denied money they were entitled to between 2013 and 2018.
The success rate for claimants in appeals has also rocketed in that time, with the Liverpool centre handling North West cases going from just 32 per cent of claimants being successful in 2013 to last year’s figure where the government triumphed in just 34 per cent of appeals. The region’s centre has also seen the percentage of cases won by claimants going up every single year between 2013 and 2018.
Charities and advice providers said the figures show the government’s benefits tests were beset by “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies”.
Most of the appeals concerned Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is paid to people who cannot work because of illness or disability; the
Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is paid to people with extra care or mobility needs; and Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which was introduced to replace DLA.
Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: “The reason for the high success rates [at tribunals]...is because of the poor assessments carried out by health professionals.
“The DWP tend to base their decision purely on these assessments and disregard other evidence sent in by the claimant.”
Initial assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the private companies Capita and the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos), which have come under criticism for scoring claimants too harshly.
In 2017, Britain’s most senior tribunal judge, Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, also said the quality of evidence provided by the DWP was so poor it would be “wholly inadmissible” in any other court.
Capita and Maximus said the majority of people were satisfied with the process, and they were working with charities and disabled people’s organisations to improve their services further.
The government says appeals represent a small percentage of all benefits claim it handles.
The number of appeals heard at tribunals for benefits dropped by 72 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15 but has risen steadily since.
Experts say this initial reduction was due to the introduction of written reviews, the first stage of the process when claimants ask the DWP to look at a decision again.
Charities also blamed cuts to legal aid for the drop in appeals.
The Liverpool centre saw 142,838 appeal against losses of benefits between 2013 and 2018, with 70,455 succeeding.
Claimants in disability, sickness and incapacity benefits appeals have seen their rate of success rise from 37 per cent to 69 per cent over the five-year period.
Emma Carrington, advice and information manager at Rethink Mental Illness, said the appeal success rates were “shocking” but “sadly no longer surprising”.
She said: “These statistics demonstrate an assessment system that is not appropriately taking into account the needs of people living with severe mental illness, something that must change if the system is to improve.”