A briefing document prepared by the DWP for work and pensions select committee reveals the scandalously small amount of money the DWP spends on carrying out mandatory reconsiderations and preparing appeals. It also explains why the DWP are happy to get personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) decisions wrong so often.
People often argue that it must be costing the DWP huge amounts of money to process so many mandatory reconsiderations and appeals and that it would be cheaper to just pay the benefits to claimants.
In fact, it turns out the DWP can knock out a reconsideration decision for under £40 and an appeal can be done for under £100, the cheapest being in connection with claimants being forced off DLA and reassessed for PIP.
Figures published in a document entitled ‘Work and Pensions Select Committee PIP and ESA Assessments inquiry: Supporting Statistics’ show the average costs as follows:
PIP Reconsiderations including training £55.07
PIP Reassessment Reconsiderations £37.89
PIP Appeals including training £211.39
PIP Reassessment Appeals £93.90
ESA Reconsiderations £53.69
ESA Appeals £82.98
The very low cost of reconsiderations and appeals demonstrates just how little work the DWP put into the process.
In particular, £37.89 for reconsideration of a decision where a claimant has been pushed off DLA and refused PIP is tiny. It must purchase a very small amount of staff time, when all the ancillary costs are taken into account.
But for the DWP the attraction of wrongly depriving claimants of benefits is huge.
A single claimant who is entitled to enhanced mobility but wrongly gets nothing will save the DWP in two years around one hundred times the cost of the mandatory reconsideration.
Given that the vast majority of claimants who lose at mandatory reconsideration do not go on to appeal, making the wrong decision is a gamble with the odds stacked very firmly in the DWP’s favour.
A small proportion of claimants will go on to appeal, but even then the whole process can cost the DWP as little as £130 if it is a PIP reassessment decision and under £140 if it is an ESA decision.
Even the most expensive reconsideration and appeal will cost less than £270.
For many PIP appeals there is now the cost of a presenting officer, but as this came from a separate grant of £22 million it is not an additional DWP expense.
So, for the DWP, there is very little to lose in taking even the most obviously unwinnable cases to tribunal.
But there is a great deal to gain, given the number of claimants who will be physically or emotionally unable to pursue their case all the way to a tribunal. The vast majority of claimants give up as soon as they realise that their mandatory reconsideration has been unsuccessful and the DWP is forcing them to go to an appeal. Others will drop out during the appeal process itself.
A small number will make it all the way to the appeal itself, but for the DWP the fact that they are then left defending a clearly unjust decision is a price well worth paying.
Cannot hope to win
Which explains why Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, told a gathering of barristers last month that most of the decisions that the DWP tries to defend at tribunals are so bad that they have no case at all and cannot hope to win.
He said that the tribunals service was considering charging the DWP for bringing unwinnable cases, though in reality there is no realistic prospect of this happening.
The truth is though, that while appeals are cheap for the DWP, the cost to the state is considerable.
There is the cost of the panel members, the venue, travelling expenses, photocopying, postage and more.
But the DWP doesn’t have to pay for these additional costs to the taxpayer.
Nor does it care that the unfair removal of benefits and the emotional strain of an appeal causes the condition of some claimants to greatly deteriorate.
For the DWP it’s only their budget that matters.
And getting decisions wrong is very cost effective indeed.