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Scots left in poverty as new rules make it harder for benefit claimants to appeal

16 Jun 2014

Citizens Advice Scotland have today published evidence showing the impact of new rules imposed on people who want to appeal against decisions made about their welfare benefits.

The report – based on real case evidence of Scottish CAB clients – is published as Scottish MP Sheila Gilmore prepares to raise the issue for debate this evening at Westminster Hall.

Publishing today’s report, Citizens Advice Scotland’s Policy Officer Beth Reid says,

“Since the new welfare reforms were brought in, many sick and disabled Scots feel they have been unfairly denied benefits and wrongly judged ‘fit for work’. The CAB service has seen thousands of such people – many of which are successful in over-turning the decision on appeal. But the appeals process can be lengthy and complex, and the claimants are left without income in the meantime.

“Last autumn the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) introduced a new rule stating that all benefit claimants who wanted to appeal would have to first refer the decision for re-consideration by the DWP decision-maker. This rule was known as a ‘mandatory reconsideration,’ and the government said it was intended to make the system more efficient, removing the need for appeals in many instances.

“Unfortunately, our evidence shows that the system in practice is making it harder for claimants to resolve disputes, not easier, and is leaving many claimants and their families in poverty for weeks or even months.

“The problem is timescales. If claimants disagree with a decision the DWP has made about their benefit, they have four weeks to ask for a reconsideration. On the other hand, the DWP have no timescales within which they have to respond. And while the DWP say they aim to process mandatory reconsiderations within 16 working days, the cases we have seen suggest that often it takes much longer.

“This issue is not an obscure technical glitch. It is a real barrier to the rights of vulnerable people to challenge and correct a flawed decision that has left them in poverty.

“In presenting this evidence today we make a number of recommendations to the government about how they can clear up this problem. If they really do want to make the system work better for claimants, we welcome that. Hopefully Ministers will see from our evidence that the current system of mandatory reconsiderations is flawed, and will make the necessary changes to ensure a system that is both efficient and fair.”

Today’s CAS report describes a number of case study examples of people who have been hit by this problem in the last few months (see below), and lists 4 key recommendations for change:
1. The Government should review the mandatory reconsideration process in October (a year after its introduction) to assess its efficacy, its impact on claimants and on access to independent appeal.
2. The DWP must ensure that ESA claimants who have requested a mandatory reconsideration of their benefit have access to a benefit which is appropriate for their level of health.
3. The DWP should ensure that claimants receive their reconsideration decision within a set timescale. If the deadline is missed then the claimant should be able to go to appeal straightaway.
4. The DWP should ensure that notifications of mandatory reconsiderations are issued promptly.

The issue of Mandatory Reconsiderations is being debated tonight in a Westminster Hall debate called by Edinburgh MP Sheila Gilmore. The debate will be at 10pm.

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