Mandatory Reconsideration, the extra step introduced in 2013 to be undertaken before a negative Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) decision can be appealed, is a waste of time.
That’s not just me saying that; it is based on sad facts admitted by the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) itself. It has just released statistics that show the impact of the process on claimants of the out-of-work disability benefit.
And those figures are official confirmation that only about 10% of ESA claimants who go through the reconsideration process are successful. Compare this with 2013, then more than 40% of original decisions were overturned.
Disability Hews Service reports:
For claimants who dispute being found fit for work, the success rate is even lower, although it is not possible to calculate from the figures published so far how it has changed since October 2013.
Campaigners and benefits experts have stressed that it is not possible to draw firm conclusions from the figures because it is not yet clear how many of those claimants turned down at the MR stage went on to be successful at a tribunal.
But they suggested that the figures show the MR stage is simply delaying the benefits process, and pushing disabled people already at risk of poverty into greater hardship.
Stef Benstead, lead researcher on Beyond the Barriers, the report by the online Spartacus network that called for a replacement for the “inaccurate, unreliable and invalid” WCA, said the latest overturn rates of about 10 per cent – far lower than the more than 50 per cent of independent tribunal appeals that succeed – suggest that the MR system is not working successfully.
She said: “This suggests that the MR is functioning mostly as an additional layer of bureaucracy, with little to no positive effect on the speed of correct decision-making.
“Given the fall in numbers being assessed as fit for work, an intermediate step like the MR seems no longer necessary as an attempt to speed up the overall appeal process.
“This may be a good time to scrap the MR and return to the old system, which allowed the DWP to revise decisions before they reached tribunal and forward the remainder on directly, thus streamlining the process for the claimants.”
But she added that many more people were now being placed straight in the ESA support group after their WCA – 60 per cent – than when ESA was first introduced, which meant fewer people were having to use the appeals process.
Welfare rights expert Nick Dilworth said in a blog that the introduction of MR had led to a huge fall in the number of appeals heard by tribunals.
But he said that nearly three in five ESA appeals to tribunals were still proving successful, despite the introduction of MR.
He said his conclusion was that MR was “a total waste of time and designed to put you off appealing”, and was succeeding in this aim even though 58 per cent of those who do still appeal to tribunals are winning their cases.
A DWP spokesman said the department would not be scrapping the MR process.
He said: “The fact that nearly 90% of decisions were not overturned last year shows that in the majority of cases decision-makers are getting it right first time.
“It is important to remember that mandatory reconsiderations were introduced to make the system as fair as possible for those going through it.”
He denied that the WCA had been tightened up to make it harder to claim ESA since the beginning of 2016, and insisted that “no changes have been made to the WCA”.
Asked why there was such a low success rate for MRs when the success rate for ESA tribunals was consistently at 58%, he said: “The majority of decisions are overturned at appeal because of the claimant’s oral evidence or new written evidence is presented at the hearing.”