Tagged: tribunal

Why the DWP’s costs for fighting Judges’ decisions will never be known

In recent months, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has fought a fierce legal battle to prevent the publication of the risk register into Iain Duncan Smith‘s Universal Credit scheme, along with other documents into concerns and problems with the plan. The information commissioner ruled it should be released, minus the risk register. A tribunal agreed, but wanted the risk register published too.

The DWP fought the case tooth-and-nail but lost. It appealed and lost that too, this time with a venomous response from a judge who could see “no support for the argument” and pointed out that the department had not “provided any persuasive evidence“. The DWP asked for permission to appeal again and has been granted the opportunity to do so at an oral hearing in a few months.

How much is all this costing, you might wonder? Well wonder all you like, because you’ll never find out.

Ian Dunt’s FOI to the DWP asking for costs came back recently with a flat refusal, as he expected. “The department does not keep a record of the time its staff spend on particular Freedom of Information case work so the information you seek is not held,” it said. The full cost to the public purse would have involved the costs of the DWP, the Treasury Solicitors Department and the Information Commissioner’s Office, but even this small piece of the puzzle was considered confidential.

These legal cases are not small fry. The grade of barrister involved in them usually cost £3,000-plus a day and countless government appeals mean they go on for months, even when the judge’s disparaging remarks have already made clear they have almost no chance of success.

Read the full article in Politics.co.uk

Source – Benefits & Work,  30 July 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2855-why-the-dwp-s-costs-for-fighting-appeal-court-decisions-will-never-be-known

IDS loses legal appeal to keep universal credit problems secret

Iain Duncan Smith‘s latest effort to prevent the publication of documents warning of the dangers of universal credit has been dismissed by a judge.

The information commissioner ruled the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should release documents about the progress of universal credit, an assessment of independent reviews and a record of problems with it. He ruled against the release of a risk register – a department document listing possible problems with the scheme – but a tribunal overruled him and said it too should be published.

The DWP insisted publication would have a “chilling effect” on the working of the department. The information tribunal ruled there was no evidence of that but that there was “strong public interest” in publication.

IDS appealed. The DWP’s first argument was that the tribunal misunderstood the nature of the chilling effect and the evidence needed to support that argument.

Judge Wikeley gave it short shrift.

“[The chilling effect] is a well known concept, and I can see no support for the argument that the tribunal misunderstood its meaning…[it] applied its expertise and reached a decision that the chilling effect argument was unpersuasive.”

The DWP’s second argument is for ‘perversity‘. This states that the tribunal reached a decision which no reasonable tribunal, on a proper appreciation of the evidence and the law, would have reached. It’s obviously a very high threshold which they did little to reach.

Judge Wikeley found:

This challenge, in my assessment, does not get near clearing this high hurdle. The tribunal identified the relevant issues, analysed the material evidence, made its findings and in that context reached its conclusions, explaining why it had done so. It seems to me its approach was entirely sustainable. The perversity ground is not arguable.”

Finally they tried to argue that the tribunal had not given due weight to the expertise of the DWP’s witness. This was irrelevant, Judge Wikeley found. He said:

An appeal to the upper tribunal is confined to a point of law… I conclude it is not arguable.”

No-one knows how much taxpayer money has been dedicated to making these frivolous legal appeals – all in a bid to save the work and pension’s secretary’s blushes.

When there are disability benefits which need cutting, every pound counts. When it’s the secretary of state who needs saving, the government’s wallet bursts at the seams.

It will still be possible for IDS to keep fighting this ruling through the courts, possibly for years, and ultimately to issue a ministerial veto to prevent publication regardless of what the courts say.

Read the full commentary in Politics.co.uk

Source –  Benefits & Work,  27 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2823-ids-loses-legal-appeal-to-keep-universal-credit-problems-secret

Successful benefits appeals soaring

A Scottish academic has published analysis showing a dramatic rise in the number of people successfully appealing against decisions to stop their benefit payments.

Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.

Dr David Webster described the latest figures as “sensational” as they show nearly nine in 10 of those who challenge decisions to stop benefits at a tribunal now have their appeal upheld. However only a few of those who are “sanctioned” by having their payments stopped ever appeal.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures reveal that over the period from October 22, 2012 until September 30 last year, 58% of those sanctioned successfully appealed against the decision.

However Dr Webster, of the Urban Studies School of Social and Political Sciences at Glasgow University, said the most recent quarter has seen a more dramatic rise. In the three months to September 30, the figure has risen to 87%, he says.

“There has been a sensational increase in the success rate of claimants at tribunal. It has been going skywards since May 2012. Tribunals are now upholding almost nine out of 10 appeals against the DWP. But only one in 50 claimants appeals.”

The backdrop to this is an ongoing acceleration in the number of people claiming benefits who are falling foul of rules under the job-seeker’s agreements which tie benefit payments to a responsibility to actively seek work.

Citizens Advice Bureaux and other welfare advice agencies report increasing concerns over decision making which they say is often unfair or arbitrary. While most agree people who claim benefits should be genuinely looking for work if they are able to, anecdotal evidence suggests Job Centres are imposing penalties based on requirements that are unrealistic or unfair.

> Anecdotal evidence ? Like its only a rumour or something ?

There have also been repeated claims that staff are given targets to sanction more claimants, and equally repeated denials from the DWP that this is the case.

Nevertheless, across the UK the number of people sanctioned in the year to September 30, 2013 was 874,850, the highest since Jobseeker’s Allowance was introduced in 1996. More than 75,000 of the these sanctions were in Scotland.

Much of the increase has come under the Coalition government – the figure in the last year of the Labour government was 500,000.

The rate at which sanctions are being applied is also accelerating, Dr Webster’s analysis shows. Under Labour 2.46% of claimants were sanctioned each month, but the average under the Coalition is 4.46% a month so far, and rising.

Figures for the whole of last year show 5.11% of claimants were sanctioned each month last year, Dr Webster says, and over the last three months the figure is 6%.

“These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996,” he explains.

Although sanction figures for those receiving the benefit for sick or disabled job seekers, Employment Support Allowance, are lower, they too are rising.

The new figures show 22,840 sanctions for ESA claimants in the last year, the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced in 2008. More than 1500 of these were in Scotland.

According to Dr Webster the low level of appeals against sanctions reflects the difficulty of the process. Only 2.44% of those who were penalised appealed in the last three months. “The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult,” he said.

The reasons why people are given sanctions has also changed markedly in recent years. Dr Webster says the most likely reason for sanctions is failing to participate in an employment or training scheme, or failing to actively seek work.

Historically, leaving a job or being dismissed from it for misconduct were the most common reasons someone might be disqualified from benefit, he says.

“Since the start of the recession, they’ve hardly featured at all. Abundant historical evidence shows that is because people are more careful to hold on to a job when they know it is more difficult to get another,” he says.

Another striking finding from the recent statistics relates to the government scheme to help long-term unemployed people find work.

The Work Programme may be finding work for some, but it is also fuelling the sanctions regime, Dr Webster says. “To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced ‘job outcomes’ – a job placement which lasts for a certain minimum period.”

The comparison shows that across the UK, the firms contracted to run the Work Programme have delivered 198,750 such job outcomes, but made referrals resulting in 394,759 sanctions, the academic’s figures show. This might be even higher, but the figures also show that about 30,000 sanctions decisions for people on the programme are cancelled every month – most usually because the paperwork for the referral has not been properly completed.

Dr Webster says: “It appears that Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale – even though one of the things they are supposed to help claimants with is filling in forms.”

There is an irony in this, he says. “Claimants are being given severe sanctions for making similar mistakes.”

A DWP spokesman said: “It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance are made clear at the start of their claim.

“We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract.

“Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

The fact only a small proportion of sanctions decisions are appealed means decisions makers get the “vast majority” of decisions right, he said.

The Work Programme has delivered 208,000 job outcomes so far, he added, and while nearly 395,000 sanctions have been issued through the work programme, only 208,000 individuals have been sanctioned.

Source – Herald Scotland,  28 Feb 2014

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/successful-benefits-appeals-soaring-says-scots-academic.23532954