When legal aid for welfare benefits cases was withdrawn, part of the justification was that expertise was not needed for such matters.
It strikes me, therefore, that it is more than ironic that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced it will be spending £22 million of public money to assist it in appeals because it needs the expertise!
Clearly the DWP does need expertise, perhaps not at tribunal hearings but when it makes basic decisions. The proportion of successful appeals against personal independence payment (PIP) assessments has increased with every quarter since the benefit was introduced? Between July and September 2015, PIP claimants won in 60% of cases, up from 56% in the previous quarter. In cases of employment and support allowance, 58% of claimants won on appeal.
The DWP will now get funding for advice & representation, the claimant will get none and will have to continue to represent themselves.
Surely if the DWP thinks that it requires expertise when presenting cases before tribunals, then the Ministry of Justice must reverse the removal of legal help for benefits cases?
The scales of justice should always be balanced. ‘Equality of Arms’ is an important principle in a civilised legal system. There must be guaranteed access to justice even if you aren’t rich or, dare I say, a government department. It must be guaranteed even if you are a disabled person or someone who relies on the safety net that is the welfare benefits system.