By Chaminda Jayanetti
The success rate of challenges to the results of disability benefit assessments has fallen dramatically since a new system was introduced in 2013, new figures show.
The government published data on Mandatory Reconsiderations (MRs) for the first time on Thursday. MRs are now the first stage of challenging the result of a Work Capability Assessment, the infamous “fit for work” test that decides eligibility for the Employment Support Allowance disability benefit.
The figures show that since MRs were introduced in October 2013, the success rate of challenges lodged through the new system has fallen from around 40 percent in the first few months to just 10 percent during 2016.
Until October 2013, appeals against WCA decisions were submitted to the courts and tribunal service, although many were dealt with informally by the DWP first. Under the MR system, benefit applicants must first ask the DWP to reconsider the result. The MR is carried out by a different person to whoever made the original decision.
Only after the MR process is complete – at times a lengthy process – can the unsuccessful applicant proceed to a formal appeal.
The number of challenges being processed under the MR system has grown since it launched. In commentary published alongside the data (pdf, see page 6), the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Due to a combination of low numbers of registrations and time needed for new operational practices to settle down, the proportion of MR decisions which were initially revised and allowed was quite high.
“However, now that these practices are established, the average number of decisions which have been revised and allowed (for the most recent year up to April 2016) is 11%.”
Not only has the success rate of MRs fallen sharply, but it is also lower than the success rate under the old system. Before the launch of MRs, the success rate of formal appeals against WCA rulings that an ESA applicant was “fit for work” – and would therefore receive no benefits – tended to be 35-40 percent.
The success rate of formal appeals actually rose above 50 percent from July 2013 to the end of 2014, the most recent figures currently available. This would indicate that at least some of the challenges being rejected under the MR system are being upheld by tribunals. However, far fewer formal appeals were submitted following the launch of MRs.
Most MR challenges since October 2013 have been against fit for work rulings, with only 19,500 of the 205,300 challenges succeeding – less than 10 percent of them.
By contrast, nearly half of those challenging the ESA group they were placed in have been successful – 22,700 out of 50,400 total MRs. These are usually from people who were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (a time-limited benefit under which claimants can be required to undertake work-related activities) instead of the Support Group (under which ESA is paid at a higher rate to those the DWP assesses to be incapable of any work-related activity).
This is the first time figures have been published showing outcomes under the MR system, despite it launching nearly three years ago. Critics had said that the new system was impossible to judge because of the lack of data.
The DWP said in a statement to Sentinel News: “The fact that nearly 90 percent of decisions were not overturned last year shows that in the majority of cases decision makers are getting it right first time.
“When decisions are overturned often this is because new evidence has been presented which wasn’t available at the time of the original decision.”