Campaigners have accused the government of “unforgivable” failings after previously unreleased figures suggested that the majority of successful disability benefit appeals were because of errors by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
According to previously unpublished data held by the DWP, 59% of successful tribunal appeals by applicants for the personal independence payment (Pip) benefit since the start of 2021 were because the tribunal “reached a different conclusion on substantially the same facts”.
This indicates that tribunals – which consistently uphold about 70% of Pip appeals – concluded that the DWP had made the wrong decisions based on the information it already had.
By contrast, less than 2% of successful tribunal appeals since the start of 2021 were because of new written evidence provided at the hearing, while about one in three were owing to “cogent oral evidence”, which can include new evidence.
The figures, which cover England, Wales and Scotland, were disclosed by recently appointed work and pension secretary Chloe Smith in response to a written question from shadow minister for disabled people Vicky Foxcroft.
The Labour minister said: “The sheer number of tribunals that overturn DWP decisions is staggering and a clear indication that the department is failing people who need their help.
“Tory ministers need to get a grip and deal with the deeply flawed assessment process, which continues to negatively impact disabled people. A future Labour government would rebuild the assessment process so people got the right decision the first time.”
Pip has become increasingly hard for applicants to claim. The success rate of applications in England and Wales has fallen from more than 70% to barely half in the last five years.
The anti-poverty charity Z2K helps support Pip applicants through their appeals. Z2K’s chief executive, Anela Anwar, said: “The DWP loses the overwhelming majority of appeals against its decisions on disability benefits. These new figures reveal that, most of the time, the independent tribunal was looking at the same evidence that was available to the DWP at the beginning of the process.
“This means tens of thousands of people have been denied social security they were entitled to for months on end – all because of government error. That’s unacceptable at the best of times, but in the midst of the current cost of living crisis it is unforgivable.”“After a decade of these discredited and demeaning assessments, disabled people urgently need fundamental reform of this failing system and a Department for Work and Pensions that listens to their experiences and takes action to correct its policies and practices.”
The DWP said: “We support millions of people with disabilities each year and always work to provide a supportive and compassionate service.“We have made improvements to our decision-making process and work hard to make the right decision. In the majority of cases, that already happens – of the 4.9m initial Pip decisions made after an assessment, as of March 2022, 9% have been appealed and 5% overturned at a tribunal hearing. Tribunals are independent of the department and may draw a different conclusion based on the same evidence.”