The high volumes of appeals are leading to people having to wait several months for a hearing and a decision.
DWP statistics show that, at any one time between February 2010 and May 2011, around 320,000 people were in the ESA ‘assessment phase’. By August 2012 this had risen to around 490,000 people, and it has stayed at or around this level since.
DWP Ministers argue that this rise is due to the number of people they are assessing as part of the Incapacity Benefit migration, and while it is true that 90,300 Incapacity Benefit claimant who have subsequently found Fit for Work and appealed have been placed into his phase (see here for statistics), all those IB claimants who are simply waiting for the outcome of their assessment are classified as being in a separate ‘conversion phase’. In reality the assessment phase is largely for new claims only, and thus the 90,300 IB migration appeals only partially explains the increase betweeb May 2011 and August 2012. In reality the growing delays in the assessment of new and existing claimants are the real issue here.
In answer to a written question from 19 November 2012 Justice Minister Helen Grant said:
During the period 1 April to 30 June 2012 (the latest period for which data has been published) the average time taken from receipt of an ESA appeal by the SSCS Tribunal to disposal was 19 weeks.
However the figure of 19 weeks is not the average waiting time for an individual making an appeal but merely the average time it takes the Courts and Tribunal Service to process the appeal once it receives the papers. Before it does so an appeal has to be lodged with the DWP, the relevant Decision Maker has to make a series of checks, and the department has to prepare and submit their response. There is no time limit for DWP to prepare their response to an appeal and in a written answer to a question from me on 29 February 2012 former Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly indicated that for the period June 2010 to May 2011 the average time taken between the submission of an appeal to DWP to receipt of the papers by HMCTS was 8.1 weeks. Thus on the basis of some rough calculations the average total time for an appeal is 27 weeks. Evidence from the Ministry of Justice to the DWP Select Committee in May 2014 suggests that this is still the case (see Q46).
If you take into account the length of time between an individual submitting their application and undergoing an assessment – averaging over 14 weeks according to Mark Harper in 17 November 2014, double Chris Grayling’s 7 weeks from 20 February 2012 – and the time taken for a Decision Maker to make a decision – averaging 2 weeks according to an answer from Mark Harper on 13 October 2014 – then on the basis of some further rough calculations we’re talking at least around 43 weeks or ten months from application to award for lots of claimants.
(according to another answer from 17 October 2014 reports from assessments are available to DWP within 24 hours)
In chapter six of the fourth independent review of the WCA Dr Paul Litchfield says:
The expectation is that the process will be completed within 91 days. However, the average end to end processing time is now significantly longer than the period stipulated in regulations.
He makes a series of recommendations that involve giving more responsibility to Decision Makers and ensuring Healthcare Professionals only carry out face-to-face assessments as and when necessary. In response the Government said that it accepts that the WCA process is currently taking too long, but only makes tentative commitments to further consider Dr Litchfield’s recommendations. For more detail see here.
In our July 2014 report on ESA, the Work and Pensions Select Committee explored how the appeals process could be sped up and made the following recommendation:
There is clearly further scope for increasing efficiency and improving the service for claimants making an appeal by introducing an online appeal application form and enabling electronic transfer of documents between DWP and the HMCTS. We appreciate that there will be an initial cost, but the return in terms of speed and efficiency would be worthwhile.