A colleague of mine has drawn my attention to this: it is being proposed that claimants appealing decisions by the Department of Work and Pensions might be charged to bring these appeals.
Almost two years ago, benefit advice and representation was removed from bring eligible for legal aid. It has been suggested that this was to try to reduce the numbers appealing decisions.
Then the mandatory reconsideration level was brought in as an additional level to try to reduce the numbers of appeals, but still the number of people appealing benefit decisions has not dropped enough and, tellingly, 58% of appeals are upheld.
Now it is being suggested that there will be a charge to bring an appeal – a charge that claimants would have to pay. How will they pay for this when they are appealing decisions that have meant they have no money?
It will keep the number of appeals down. But it doesn’t address the issue that for some reason the DWP decision makers are making incorrect decisions in far too many cases. Surely the issue is with the decision making, not the people claiming the benefits. That’s where efforts should be focussed.
What penalties are there when the DWP make an incorrect decision? None. What penalty is there is a claimant makes an honest mistake? Sanctions, repayments, possible prosecution.
It has been suggested before (I think it was in the Low Commission report) that the DWP should be fined if it makes incorrect decisions, and that the fines would then go to advice agencies to provide advice. If few to no mistakes are made then there would be no need for advice services. Wouldn’t it be great if our advice services were put out of business because government departments and agencies did their job correctly. The current state of affairs results in a waste of public funds and a lot of hardship while mistakes are corrected.
Surely such a vital public service, one that is there to protect vulnerable members of society, would want to prioritise getting it right, not making it more difficult to put right the wrongs?