A massive surge in appeals , increased costs and weekly parliamentary questions about tribunal waiting times were all caused by the DWP misreading a date in its own legislation and then being too embarrassed to admit it, a top judge has revealed.{jcomments on}

Judge Robert Martin, writing in the April edition of the Judicial Information Bulletin, which goes out to all tribunal members, disclosed that the DWP panicked because they believed that from October 2013 they would have to respond to all appeals lodged by benefits claimants within 28 calendar days. There had previously been no time limit.

In fact, the legislation which introduced the new 'mandatory reconsideration and direct lodgement of appeals' system gave the DWP a year’s grace after its introduction for most benefits, before they had to comply with the time limit. But, says Judge Martin in a comment dripping with irony, ‘Through the kind of error anyone might make, DWP misread the commencement date’.

Believing that the time-limit applied from October 2013 rather than 2014, the DWP embarked on a massive campaign to reduce a backlog of 110,00 appeals that had been sent to the DWP by claimants but to which the DWP had yet to respond.

When they finally realised their mistake, to avoid the risk of “significant reputational damage’ the DWP agreed with the tribunals service that ‘they would act as though the start-date had, in fact, been advanced by a year’.

Thousands of additional appeals for which no extra staff provision had been made were hurried through to the tribunals service each month. As a result, according to Judge Martin:

“Throughout the first half of 2013, the Tribunal faced considerable political strain. Parliamentary questions were tabled weekly highlighting the growing waiting times for appeals to be heard and the mounting expenditure. The delay caused hardship for claimants and forensic difficulties for judges and members in trying to delve back in time to the date of the decision under appeal.”

This massive increase in appeals – a record of over 50,000 were cleared in just one month in 2013 – has now been followed by a huge drop in numbers, with an unprecedented low of just 8,775 appeals in March 2014.

In his article, Dark Matters, Judge Martin explores the many possible reasons for this sudden drop in appeals and, perhaps because of his imminent retirement as President of the social entitlement chamber, he allows his disgust with the DWP to shine like a beacon.

Judge Martin’s article, ‘Dark matter’ can be downloaded from the Rightsnet discussion forum.


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