At 31 December 2011, the latest date for which data have been published, 63,500 appeals were outstanding in which the work capability assessment was a factor, down from 84,100 in October 2010. There are always a number of live appeals at the various stages of processing before being listed for a tribunal hearing.
The fact that 63,500 people are in limbo is a disgrace, and waiting for appeal results is damaging people’s health, particularly those who have mental health problems. What is the Minister doing to try to rectify the situation, and when can we expect waiting times for appeals to be at a reasonable level?
I think that the hon. Lady has misunderstood the situation. There will always be people who are waiting for appeals. If they put in an appeal submission today, they will not have a tribunal hearing this afternoon. There is always a gap to allow everyone involved to prepare for the hearing itself. We are doing everything we can to reduce the backlog of appeals, as we inherited a massive backlog two years ago from the previous Government. The figures I have just set out show that we have succeeded in reducing that. We have reduced it as far as possible, but there will always be people in the pipeline waiting for appeals, because they simply do not happen on the same day as the application goes in.
My constituent, Mrs W, was placed in a work capability assessment group on 7 April. She appealed and waited until September when she was successful, like 40% of those who appeal. Shortly afterwards, she was recalled for a further assessment. Will the Minister consider giving work capability assessments tribunals the ability not just to assess the rightness of decisions at the time they are made but to decide when the assessments need to be made, cutting the number of people in the revolving door, waiting for appeals?
The hon. Lady will know that when the present system was set up by the previous Government, they built in a system of prognosis times, which set a rough estimate of the next time an assessment should be held. As I said, I have now taken steps to lengthen that period when somebody has been through an appeal, but she should be under no illusion: the system she talks about is the one set up by her own party.
The Minister should know that, at the end of last year, more than twice as many people as the Courts and Tribunals Service’s target figure were having to wait more than six months for appeals, at a cost to the Ministry of Justice of more than £40 million in the first year of this Government. When the tendering process for assessments for personal independence payments begins, will he seek options to ensure that any contractor that partners with the Government takes its share of the risk and of meeting the costs of decisions that are overturned on appeal?
The decision-making process lies within Jobcentre Plus and the decision makers work to a template established by the Department for Work and Pensions, but the reality is that under the Human Rights Act 1998, passed by the previous Government, the courts have decided that everyone has a right to appeal, and if people do not like the decision made, whether it is right or wrong, a large number will choose to appeal. We will do everything we can to get the decisions right, but we will not be able to stop people appealing.