Disability News Service (DNS) has uncovered evidence that DWP presenting officers are required by their bosses to try to nobble as many enhanced PIP awards and ESA support group awards as possible.
In theory, presenting officers should act as a ‘friend of the court’, helping judges to reach a fair decision.
However, we warned back in March 2016 when the DWP was given £22 million to recruit new presenting officers:
“In reality, they will be sent by the DWP to try to discredit claimants and argue as forcibly as possible for the DWP’s interpretation of the law to be accepted.”
This latest evidence suggests that we were correct.
A freedom of information request by DNS resulted in them being sent forms that have to be completed by presenting officers after each tribunal they attend.
Included in the documents are the following questions for presenting officers attending ESA and PIP tribunals, respectively:
“PO impact – Was SG [support group] award averted”
“PO impact – was enhanced PIP award averted?”
DNS quotes a DWP insider as telling them that presenting officers are being given the ‘target’ of stopping enhanced PIP payments and that this was placing ‘immoral pressure’ on presenting officers.
As Benefits and Work revealed back in November 2017, presenting officers currently attend 23% of all first tier PIP tribunals, but the aim is to increase this to 50%.
It would seem likely that presenting officers are being used primarily to target claimants who are likely to be seeking enhanced rates of PIP or the support group of ESA. In which case their presence has nothing to do with improving decision making by feeding back to colleagues and everything to do with saving money.
The use of the public purse to provide presenting officers to tribunals under false pretences is a new low even for the DWP. It demonstrates once again that this is a rogue agency at war with the people it was created to support.
We hope that this revelation by DNS will help to undermine the credibility of presenting officers with tribunal judges, though we suspect their standing is already pretty low.