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Employment and Support Allowance

Volume 534: debated on Monday 24 October 2011

21. What the average length of time was for an appeal in respect of a decision on a claim for employment and support allowance in the latest period for which figures are available. (76004)

In the current year, the average actual clearance time between the Department’s receiving an appeal and its being lodged with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service was 35.2 days. That, of course, includes the time allowed for individuals to produce new evidence about their circumstances. The average time taken from receipt of an appeal at HMCTS to the date of the first appeal hearing was 23.2 weeks. That information covers 1 April to 31 August 2011, the latest period for which figures are available.

I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. Will he take this opportunity to refute press reports that he will cut the ESA of people who appeal against assessment decisions, especially in the light of the information that 40% of cases are being won on appeal?

What I expect to see as a result of the changes following Professor Harrington’s review in the summer is a significant reduction in the number of cases that go to appeal when the Department’s initial review and the reconsideration are upheld. In order to ease pressure on individuals, we have tried to ensure that there is a proper reconsideration service in Jobcentre Plus, so that they can produce new evidence at that stage and need not use the Courts Service at all.

Will the Minister look into the delays and difficulties experienced by visually impaired claimants who are being transferred from incapacity benefit to the ESA? I have no time to go into the details of this case today, but after more than four months a constituent of mine is still unable to submit a claim because of a lack of support and assistance, and she is not the only person in those circumstances. Will the Minister look into the difficulties experienced by this very vulnerable group?

It is difficult for me to comment on an individual case, but we certainly do not want to see people in difficulties. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me with details of the case, we will look into it for him.