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Employment and Support Allowance (Appeals)

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2013

3. What progress he has made on improving the feedback from tribunal judges to the Department for Work and Pensions on the reasons for overturning employment and support allowance refusal decisions. (156175)

The provision of feedback on reasons for tribunals’ decisions is always a matter for the judiciary. As the hon. Lady will be aware, new arrangements for this were put in place in July 2012. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is continuing to work with the judiciary, the Department for Work and Pensions and the other organisations involved to find ways of improving feedback.

The problem is that the feedback mechanism, which involves the use of a drop-down menu, is very brief. For example, the reason given for 40% of the overturned decisions was “cogent oral evidence”. That does not give decision makers in the DWP any real help in understanding how they can make changes that would result in fewer appeals. Surely it is necessary for the Department, which bears the cost of the appeals, to do something about this.

We are continuing to work hard across Government to improve initial decision making, with the ultimate aim of reducing the number of appeals. A new pilot is being considered, and I will be happy to write to the hon. Lady with details of that.

The waiting times for appeal hearings for employment and support allowance claims are far too long. The waiting time at the Leicester venue is now 40 weeks, which is a complete disgrace. What is the Minister going to do to sort this out?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important to deal with these cases in a timely manner. National waiting times for ESA appeals are actually down, from 21.5 weeks in December 2011 to 16.7 weeks in December 2012. The figures are even better in Scotland, but of course more needs to be done.

That is a very good tie, by the way, Mr Speaker.

Does the Minister agree that so many incorrect first decisions having to be overturned by judges not only causes massive grief for the families concerned but incurs significant additional cost to the taxpayer? That is a double whammy. Surely it is time we got this right.

The judiciary provides feedback, which is being considered. In November 2012, over 60% of appeals allowed by tribunals had reasons for the decisions attached. As I indicated in response to the question before last, we are looking at a new pilot, and I will write to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) about it.

The Minister told us earlier about what she views—wrongly in my view—as the exploitation of judicial review. Is it not the case here that poor decisions by Atos are piling work on the tribunals service and therefore costing the public more money? Why does her Department not liaise properly with the Department for Work and Pensions, or is this another case of one arm of the Government not knowing what the other is doing?

It is the DWP decision makers who make decisions, but I can tell the hon. Lady that many measures are being put in place to increase capacity and reduce waiting times

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) says “such as” from a sedentary position. Those measures include recruiting more judges, securing additional venues and more Saturday sittings in addition to striving continually to improve original decision making.