DWP and Tribunal Service Coziness

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DWP and Tribunal Service Coziness

Postby markR » Tue Mar 01, 2011 10:45 am

This in from the Tribunal Service - hat-tip Miss Ben E Fit - http://www.abcofesa.co.uk/board/index.php


There has been some recent publicity on the internet about a Reconsideration Pilot on which the Tribunals Service have been working with DWP. This note provides further information about the pilot.

The background to the exercise was long-standing discussions about the reconsideration process within DWP who have been actively reviewing how it operates and how it might be improved to, wherever possible, avoid the need to go to appeal.

As part of this improvement process, the Tribunals Service has supported Job Centre Plus in applying a secondary and more robust reconsideration process to live Employment and Support Allowance appeals currently being prepared for consideration by a tribunal. The objective of this exercise has been to prevent appellants needlessly attending tribunal hearings. The exercise is due to run to the end of March.

In practical terms, the exercise has taken the form of teams of decision makers deployed on Tribunals Service premises carrying out a systematic review of live appeals and revising their decisions wherever possible. The decision makers are facilitated in this exercise by the presence of an ATOS doctor whose knowledge and expertise is called upon to support and inform their decision making. In terms of the actual process being carried out, this is essentially a retrieval and provision of cases to the teams of decision makers by TS administrative staff.

To support this process, appropriate communications therefore take place concerning the numbers of cases required and the frequency of the supply. Once provided with cases, the reconsideration team works though these, reconsidering each one in turn before putting the case aside for collection by TS staff. As appropriate, where the decision maker has revised their decision, a record is made of this so that the TS staff may carry out the necessary process to notify the appellant. Cases where the decision has not been revised will proceed to hearing in the usual manner. In exceptional cases, if the decision maker feels that the appeal has no reasonable prospect of success, they may apply for a direction under the provisions of the Tribunals Procedure (First Tier Tribunal) (Social Entitlement) Rules 2008. As you know it is open to either party to an appeal to apply to the Tribunal for a direction.

ATOS doctors communicate only with the decision makers, not with Tribunal Judges. Nor is there never any conversation about an appellant’s case between a Judge and a member of the DWP reconsideration team. Any application to strike out made by the reconsideration team is dealt with formally through TS staff and the appellant is given a full opportunity to comment on the written request.

The decision was taken by the Tribunals Service to allow decision makers to look at TS files as these were felt to be the most up-to-date and accurate record. While evidence is copied routinely to DWP by TS, there was an acceptance that DWP’s appeal files were less accurate which therefore made TS files preferable from a reconsideration point of view in that all available evidence could be captured and considered. For data security reasons, TS sought to avoid the transfer of any files off site wherever possible because of the risk of accidental loss of data which the unnecessary movement would entail. This decision in itself has therefore required the decision makers to be located on TS premises. ATOS doctors are present only to advise the decision makers who are reviewing the cases.

The decision makers are located together in designated areas on TS premises and inevitably meet and have contact with TS administrative staff in order to effect the process of file PART OF THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE access. Discussions may also take place locally with managers about how well the process is working and whether there are any problems.

As already outlined, the decision maker may, rarely, apply to a Judge for a direction to strike out the appeal if they feel it has no reasonable prospect of success. This is done by completion of an application in writing which is then passed to TS administrative staff , who then initiate this process.
There is no arrangement, whether as part of the reconsideration exercise or otherwise, for decision makers informally to raise with Tribunal Judges medical or other evidence which they feel should be rejected.

The Ministry of Justice do not feel that access to justice is in any way compromised by this reconsideration process. The Tribunals Service is not giving DWP access to any material which they do not already hold and the judiciary have been consulted throughout the process to ensure that their independence is not compromised.

From the point of view of the individual, an appellant appeals against their decision because they believe it to be wrong. In the absence of that decision being revised, the appellant must, in most circumstances, attend a tribunal hearing which inevitably causes both delay and inconvenience to the appellant. A strategy which aims to prevent this happening and to give a legal resolution to the appellant more quickly and straightforwardly is therefore something which TS is duty-bound to take seriously and to support.

Tribunals Service February 2011

Hmm - all a bit cosy ain't it? DWP and TS staff meeting "in designated areas" with the ATOS doctor on hand to give impartial advice acting as independent expert, and total disclosure offered to the prosecution but maybe not (at the time) to the defence. The reconsideration process is in effect a mini-Tribunal to which the appellant does not have the same access. And an unfavourable result may prompt an application to strike out.
Since the appellant - perhaps from October 2011 - will no longer have access to Legal Aid, and hence cannot be represented - this is likely to be a minefield resulting in unfair and summary judgments. And to think 1 million people or more will be going through this process.

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