'˜Staggering' costs of disability benefit appeals revealed

More than £100 million has been spent by the Department for Work and Pensions on administering reviews and appeals against disability benefits in little more than two years, figures show.

The DWP said a small proportion of decisions were overturned. Picture: PA

This is in addition to the tens of millions of pounds spent every year by the Ministry of Justice on the appeals, around two-thirds of which have been won by claimants in the past year.

The bill has been branded “staggering” and prompted a Tory former minister to claim “something is seriously wrong with the system”.

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The DWP said a small proportion of decisions were overturned and most employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) claimants were happy with their assessments.

But the department is also facing questions from the work and pensions select committee over the figures, amid claims it was not given similar information for its own inquiry into PIP and ESA.

Figures obtained through a freedom of information request show the DWP has spent £108.1 million on direct staffing costs for ESA and PIP appeals since October 2015.

The figure covers mandatory reconsiderations, an internal DWP review and appeals to tribunals run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The monthly cost has been steadily rising and in December the DWP spent £5.3m on mandatory reconsiderations and appeals for PIP and ESA.

The equivalent figure for October 2015 was £2.6m.

“To spend this amount on admin fighting to uphold flawed decisions that shouldn’t have been made in the first place is staggering,” said Neil Heslop, chief executive of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire.

“Thousands of disabled individuals have had to fight to receive support to which they are legally entitled.”

Since October 2015, 87,500 PIP claimants had their decision changed at mandatory reconsideration, while 91,587 claimants won their appeals at tribunal. In the first six months of 2017-18 some 66 per cent of 42,741 PIP appeals went in the claimant’s favour.

The figures for ESA since October 2015 show 47,000 people had decisions revised at mandatory reconsideration and 82,219 appeals went in the claimant’s favour.

So far in 2017-18, 68 per cent of 35,452 ESA appeals have gone in favour of the claimant.

Tory peer Baroness Altmann, a former minister at the DWP, said the money could be spent on benefits for those who need them, rather 
than on the costs of fighting claims.

A DWP spokeswoman said it was working to improve the process, including recruiting around 190 officers who will attend PIP and ESA appeals to provide feedback on decisions.