Mike Penning, DWP minister for disabled people has accused Judge Robert Martin of a conflict of interest following the judge’s attacks on the DWP’s hugely inaccurate forecasts about how many appeals the tribunals service should prepare for.{jcomments on}

Judge Martin, the recently retired president of the social entitlement chamber, which deals with benefits tribunals, has claimed that the work capability assessment (WCA) process has virtually collapsed and that DLA claimants are having their awards extended, rather than looked at again. It is this, he believes, as well as the more recent introduction of mandatory reconsideration before appeal, which led to a massive drop in the number of appeals being lodged compared with the number the DWP had told the tribunals service to prepare for.

Penning, however, told the work and pensions committee last week that:

“You have probably heard some of the judges complaining that they are not getting as many appeals as, perhaps, they would like. I must add that the judges get paid for the number of appeals that they sit on, so I think there might be a slight conflict of interest there, but I want appeals down because I want the decisions right . . . “

The chair of the Work and Pensions Committee asked Penning:

You have said there that anybody who gets paid for a service has a conflict of interest. That is what you seem to imply.

Penning replied:

“I will need to clarify this. There is some press out there again today about the judges who sit on tribunals. One of them has just retired and is clearly complaining that there are not as many cases coming through. Now, unlike judges who sit in the High Court—and I have been to the tribunals and discussed this with them—they get paid on demand, so, in other words, they turn up to do a case review. Judges complain that there are fewer cases coming through on appeal but, actually, I think that is a good thing, because I do not want so many appeals; I want us to get the decisions right. That is the point I was trying to make.”

In fact, some tribunal judges get paid for each session they sit at, others are full-time salaried judges who get paid regardless of how many hearings they preside over.

The outgoing president of the social welfare chamber was very definitely on a salary.

Moreover his anger was about the fact that, based on DWP advice, they had taken on large numbers of sessional members and, more importantly, salaried support staff and also hired new venues to cope with increased demand, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Many of those staff are now either left with no work or have been made redundant, again at considerable expense to the taxpayer and considerable personal distress.

But it would perhaps be unreasonable to expect a DWP minister to either get their facts right or to care about the fate of mere admin workers. Especially when there’s an opportunity to sneer at the judiciary available.


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