Government appeal process condemned as ‘traumatic’ and a ‘waste of time and money’
Ministers have spent almost £40m in an “appalling” attempt to stop sick and disabled people receiving the financial help they are entitled to, The Independent can reveal.
Freedom of Information requests have exposed how taxpayers’ money has been spent on futile legal battles to prevent vulnerable people receiving help. The hit to the public purse could also be far higher than the new data suggests because it is still unclear how much more the state spends running courts where sanctions are challenged.
The vast majority of appeals were lost by the Government last year, making the expense appear unnecessary. Early indications now show the problem is becoming even worse in 2017, with a 77 per cent rise in money spent trying to stop people from getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments.
Critics claim the situation has arisen because fitness to work assessments are deeply flawed, leading to incorrect decisions which need to be fought.
Senior Labour MP Frank Field, who worked as David Cameron’s poverty tsar, said: “What’s appalling is that the [Government] is prepared to spend £39m of taxpayers’ money against people who are desperately fighting off destitution.
New figures show that in 2016 the Government spent £22m processing claimants’ initial appeals against sanctions – a stage most people must pass through before they reach a tribunal.
It emerged earlier this year that government officials are given targets to reject four out of five initial appeals – known as mandatory reconsiderations – for some disability benefits.
Further data obtained by The Independentunder Freedom of Information law shows the Government then spent a further £17m fighting cases in the courts that were not settled at the initial appeal stage, bringing the total appeals process cost to £39m last year.
In the same period the Government lost 62 per cent of the tribunal cases in which it was attempting to sanction a claimant’s ESA – which supports people when impairments prevent them working.
They also lost 65 per cent of the cases in the latter half of 2016, the most recent period for which figures are available, relating to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a longer-term benefit.
But the defeats suffered by government lawyers are not persuading ministers of the need to change tack, with the figures actually pointing to a more costly appeals process in 2017.