Some 180 more officers to be recruited to defend against appeals
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials have been given a £22 million war chest to defend against benefit appeals as more changes to payments come into force.
In a clear sign that the government is preparing to fight more claims over reduced disability benefits in the coming years, civil servants will use the cash to recruit presenting officers and to support the department against personal independent payment (PIP) appeals.
The cash was included in the chancellor’s last budget statement. Some 180 new presenting officers will be recruited.
Tories have long been dissatisfied at the high success rate of benefit appeals since the back-to-work regime came into place.
Currently 53% of everyone who appealed their Employment and Support Allowance “fit to work” decision had it reversed last year.
Now government minsters fear a similar success rate as PIP gradually replace disability living allowance and claimants appeal changes to their benefits.
Assessors don’t understand conditions which fluctuate, like MS, or its impact on their lives - Michelle Mitchell
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, described the reforms as potentially “devastating” for people with the condition and said they could “fail some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
“People with MS are struggling to get the vital support they need and in too many cases are having to go through a lengthy appeals process,” she said. “They continue to tell us that assessors don’t understand conditions which fluctuate, like MS, or its impact on their lives.”
Iain Duncan Smith resigned as work and pensions secretary over cuts to disability benefits, in the most dramatic cabinet departure of David Cameron’s leadership.
Subsequently the government backed down on the most draconian changes but it is feared it could make saving through the back door by defending itself against appeals more rigorously.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Presenting officers assist tribunals by giving both the legal case for the appeal, the department’s case for upholding the original decision but also by drawing attention to any new and relevant evidence. By increasing the number of Presenting officers, we will help ensure the right decision is achieved at each appeal.”