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Employment and Support Allowance Tribunals

Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2014

5. What assessment he has made of the consequences for future decisions by employment and support allowance tribunals of the provision by the judiciary to the Department for Work and Pensions and appellants of reasons for their decisions in appeals. (903843)

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s interest in this subject. Last year, a pilot scheme was introduced in four places around the country where employment and support allowance appeals had the summary reasons issued at the time of the appeal judgment. This was extended in March across the country in relation to all ESA and personal independence payment appeals. There is no current plan to make a further assessment, but the Ministry of Justice supports fully what is a Department for Work and Pensions initiative.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but this is a hugely important issue for many individuals who face great stress and anxiety in going through the appeal processes. Will the Minister not commit to evaluating both the pilots and the ongoing process properly, so we can understand fully whether they are working and whether further improvements are needed?

We shall of course watch what happens. We expect the process to be extended this year to many other forms of appeal in the social security system. The evidence will show whether it informs people and we do not have as many appeals in the future because the decisions will have been got right in the first place. The level of appeals that she highlighted in a question on a previous occasion—nearly 45%—will then disappear. My objective is to get decisions right in the first place. The stress to which she refers should be removed from many people. They should not need to have to go to appeal to get the right decision.

One of the biggest problems that I face as a constituency Member of Parliament is the time that it takes for ESA appeals to go ahead. It is good news that the delay has been reduced from an average of 23 weeks to 18, but what is the Minister doing to ensure that appeals speed up even more in the future?

Members on both sides of the House will have shared my hon. Friend’s experience, which is principally a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. It will certainly be helpful if the right decisions are made more often in the first place, but we must ensure that tribunals, particularly the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, have enough resources to be able to deal with cases as soon as possible after receiving the information that they require. Often the problem is collecting the data that will enable an appeal to be heard. The present situation is not acceptable, and we need to reduce the delay between initial decisions and appeals.

The Ministry of Justice faces large costs as a result of appeals against decisions made but by not just the DWP but the Home Office. Ensuring that the right decisions were made would save the MOJ a huge amount of money. Will my right hon. Friend consider applying the “polluter pays” principle, so that the Department that has caused an excessive number of appeals pays some of the MOJ’s costs? That would give Departments an incentive to make the right decisions.

My hon. Friend has mentioned that idea to me before, and I find it attractive. I have not had a formal discussion about it with the Secretary of State, but I imagine that he may instinctively find it attractive as well. We certainly expect our colleagues in other Departments to make decisions correctly, and not to incur costs that will be borne by our Department, and hence by the taxpayer, by getting those decisions wrong. I shall willingly engage in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and with other Departments that ought to be bearing the burden of decisions that they got wrong in the first place.