The Tribunals Service is struggling to recruit and train an extra 700 panel members after being hit by a flood of personal independence payment (PIP) appeals, the President of the Service revealed in his latest annual report last week. The result is longer waiting times for claimants to have their appeals heard.
According to judge John Aitken “The rapid rise in appeal numbers has outstripped our ability to recruit and train sufficient numbers of panel members to keep pace.”
Social security hearings reached their height in 2012-13, when there were 507,000 appeals. However, the introduction of the mandatory reconsideration before appeal system brought these numbers crashing down to 112,000 in 2014-15.
But the mass reassessment of working age claimants for PIP has clearly had a huge effect on appeal numbers. In the year to the end of March 2016 they had gone up to 157,000 but, warns Aitken, “The trend is now upwards and provisional figures indicate much larger increases over 2017.”
The problems for the Tribunals service are made worse by the fact that PIP appeals require three person tribunals, rather than the two needed for ESA appeals or a judge sitting alone for many other types of social security hearing.
Having got rid of many staff members when the number of appeals plummeted, the Tribunals Service is now having to start recruiting again:
“In September 2017 we recruited 62 Disability Qualified Members from the Employment Tribunal who have now been hearing cases for several months. The process was streamlined and the quality of applicants very high.
“We are presently engaged in a competition via the Judicial Appointments Commission to recruit up to 150 further disability qualified members by open competition, the results of which will be known by the summer. We recently concluded recruitment of 250 medical members who are undergoing training and initial observations and will commence sitting soon.
“A number of salaried Judges were recruited in open competition, 17 have already been appointed and it is hoped that another 10 will soon join them significantly strengthening our salaried team. A streamlined internal assignment process has commenced to recruit fee paid Judges in tandem with an open competition, and it is hoped that around 200 fee paid Judges will be recruited in this way.
Aitken revealed the massive scale of the recruitment process in his report:
“In total within 12 months around 700 new judicial office holders will sit in the jurisdiction. They are required because of rapid rise in appeal numbers has outstripped our ability to list cases as quickly as we would have liked.”
For claimants, what this means is longer waiting times whilst the new members are recruited, trained and begin work. It may also mean more appeals having to go to the upper tribunal as new panels make errors that more experienced ones would not have made.