Appeal lapse statistics show that the Mandatory Reconsideration is not fit for purpose

Z2K’s FOI request reveals that thousands of appeals are lapsing every year, distorting DWP and HMCTS statistics and hiding the true extent of poor decision making. 19% of PIP appeals were lapsed in 2018, showing that the Mandatory Reconsideration process just isn’t working.

Andy McCarthy, 14 August 2019

Amelia’s Story

Amelia* approached Z2K for help earlier this year. She transferred from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a new benefit which all DLA claimants over 16 are eventually being transferred over to. Upon reassessment her award reduced by £40 per week, which was essential to cover the extra costs of having a disability. We had previously helped her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal, where she scored 36 points (the threshold of entitlement is 15 points), so we knew the DWP has already made one very wrong decision about her disability and what she is rightly entitled to.

This move to PIP and subsequent drop in income had a profound effect on Amelia’s mental health. She came to us in tears and was so anxious she couldn’t leave the house. I spent over an hour on the phone with her, explaining her options, and agreed to help her with a mandatory reconsideration (MR). We sent in a MR and further evidence, and waited knowing full well that her chances of a revised decision were slim.

Eight weeks later we received a decision which remained unchanged. We lodged the appeal immediately to challenge this. Amelia was terrified at the prospect of attending a tribunal again, despite a previous positive result.

Less than a month later we received a phone call from Amelia. The DWP had decided to revise the decision in her favour. The tribunal wouldn’t be going ahead, and they decided based on the evidence already on her claim they would proceed to increase her award. What should have been a positive moment was bittersweet: why had they changed their decision only now? Why didn’t they pay any attention to her new evidence at MR stage (which would have prevented unnecessary waiting time), only to revise it after an appeal was lodged? And couldn’t Amelia’s added anxiety have been avoided?

The wider picture – thousands of appeals lapsing

The DWP exercised their right to “lapse” Amelia’s appeal, essentially revising their decision in her favour after the appeal is lodged. And she is not alone in her experience.

Our recent Freedom of Information request to the DWP has unearthed a staggering amount of appeal lapses, growing by their thousands every year. In 2018, nearly 14,000 clients had their appeal lapse.  Since 2014 there have been 32,640 appeals lapsing for PIP alone. These statistics are not included in DWP reporting, which only cover up to the MR stage. The statistics are also absent from HMCTS reporting for tribunals, as they are classed as cases “cleared without a hearing” which also includes withdrawals and supersessions.

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
ESA 550 2960 3370 6460 6730
ESA EU 10 170 200 130 100
UC WCA 0 0 10 60 120
PIP 890 3570 4440 9800 13940

 

The lapsing of the appeals are not wholly unwelcome, as it means vulnerable claimants like Amelia can get the benefit they were entitled to without the onerous appeal wait (which could be up to 6 months) or the need to attend a tribunal hearing. However, these figures highlight the inadequacies of the MR process.

In cases like Amelia’s all of the same information was available to the decision makers, and yet it did not get taken into account. In 2018 only 22% of disputed PIP decisions were revised in the client’s favour at MR stage. This is starkly contrasted with the percentage of PIP tribunal hearings in the client’s favour (72% in 2018).

If the 2018 appeal lapse figures were added to available statistics, the MR success rate would rocket from 22% to 29%.  Alternatively if they were added to tribunal statistics, the 2018 success rate for clients would go from 72% to 76%. In fact, this would mean that 19% of successful tribunal decisions would be as a result of an appeal lapsing.

More worrying is the gatekeeping that is inevitable if the MR remains a ‘rubber-stamp’ of the original decision. We need to be mindful that the appeal process is no easy feat for disabled people and those living in vulnerable circumstances, with the DWP’s own research highlighting that only 9% of PIP decisions have been appealed, and that 2 in 5 claimants who did not go on to appeal a PIP decision after an MR cited their main reason as finding the process too stressful. Therefore if people like Amelia are only afforded a proper review process after they have lodged their appeal, this is not true justice and reflects a broken system that is pushing people into poverty

The DWP’s FOI responses are available here and here

 

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