Select Committee on Social Security Eighth Report



1. We intend to keep under review the progress made by The Appeals Service in reducing the unacceptable delays for appellants in having their appeals heard (paragraph 13).

Quality of administration

2. The Committee considers that a reduction in the number of administrative staff in the coming year would hinder the ability of The Appeals Service agency to produce the modern customer-focused service we all want to see. We recommend that the numbers of staff and the grading of staff relative to the tasks they are expected to perform should be kept under review; and that each annual report of The Appeals Service agency should set out the number of staff in post, broken down into permanent and casual staff, and should give details of the training delivered to staff in the year, and the number of staff who have benefited from the different types of training (paragraph 18).

Information technology

3. We recommend that the capital budget of The Appeals Service agency should be increased to support a comprehensive IT development strategy for the Agency. We recommend that the business plan for the new Appeals Service Agency should set out its IT development strategy and that the annual report of the Agency should give details of expenditure on IT development in the year (paragraph 20).

Judicial standards

4. We recommend that the Annual Report of the President of appeal tribunals should give details of the number of persons appointed to the panel by the Lord Chancellor, by the nature of their qualifications, by whether they are full-time or part-time staff, and by Region (paragraph 23).

5. We recommend that The Appeals Service and the Department of Social Security should carry out a cost benefit analysis of switching to a system where the majority of appeals were handled by full-time chairmen rather than part-time chairmen (paragraph 25).

6. The induction training offered to new panel members does not seem to us to allow sufficient time to master the knowledge and skills needed to make important judgements on social security questions affecting people's lives. We recommend that the period of induction training should be extended (paragraph 26).

7. We are concerned that the amount of on-going training available to panel members—particularly those sitting part-time—may not be sufficient to enable them to perform their judicial duties to the requisite standards. We recommend that the President's Annual Report should give full details of training delivered to panel members in each region during the course of the year, and details of annual expenditure on training (paragraph 27).

10. We recommend that prospective panel members should be tested for their suitability for judicial appointment. Consideration should be given to such measures as psychometric testing to achieve this (paragraph 31).

Equal opportunities and anti-discrimination

8. We consider that equal opportunities and anti-discrimination training should be part of the basic training of every panel member, and should also be integral to all continuing training courses. We are critical of the lack of importance attached to this aspect of training (paragraph 30).

9. We recommend that immediate action should be taken to ensure that, when The Appeals Service is launched in April 2000, a comprehensive programme of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination training for all staff—both administrative and judicial—is in place (paragraph 30).

11. We recommend that the Lord Chancellor's Department, in conjunction with the President of appeal tribunals, should make special efforts to recruit suitable people with legal qualifications from ethnic minority backgrounds to the panel from which tribunals will be drawn (paragraph 32).

12. We also recommend that each annual report of The Appeals Service Agency should give information on the gender and ethnicity of staff employed by the Agency (paragraph 33).

13. We recommend that The Appeals Service should undertake ethnic monitoring of appellants, and the monitoring of appeal outcomes by ethnicity, to assist in ensuring that people are treated fairly irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds (paragraph 34).

14. We recommend that the form which is completed by an appellant prior to a hearing concerning their attendance should expressly invite the appellant to indicate whether he or she wishes ITS/The Appeal Service to arrange for an interpreter to attend the hearing (paragraph 35).

15. We recommend that The Appeals Service should adopt Benefits Agency best practice guidance in the use of interpreters (paragraph 35).

The use of the President

16. We recommend that when The Appeals Service is launched, formal recognition should be given to the role of the President within The Appeals Service in the preparation and settling of bids with the Department concerning tribunal funds and in decisions concerning the allocation of funds, through a published memorandum of understanding between the President, the Chief Executive and the Department (paragraph 37).

17. We recommend that the Annual Report of The Appeals Service should contain a section where the President of appeal tribunals reports on the judicial activities of tribunals, on the fulfilment of his own statutory responsibilities, and on any concerns he may have concerning procedures and working of The Appeals Service, including if necessary, matters of administration and funding (paragraph 39).

The use of Clerks

18. We recommend that The Appeals Service should work with the Council on Tribunals to ensure that the recruitment, organisation and training of clerks is sufficient to bring them up to the standards necessary to meet their new judicial responsibilities and that the President should be given formal responsibility for the training, guidance and monitoring of tribunal clerks in the fulfilment of their judicial role (paragraph 41).

Fair hearings for appellants

19. We recommend that more should be done to encourage appellants to attend the hearing of their appeal. In particular, we recommend that the enquiry form sent to appellants asking them whether they wish to attend their appeal should include a warning on the low rate of success of appeals where the appellant does not attend (paragraph 43).

20. We recommend that the results of the evaluation of the 1996 changes regarding the requirement to opt for an oral hearing should be published, giving details of the effect of the 1996 changes on tribunal attendances and outcomes (paragraph 44).

21. We recommend that, where a deadline of 14 days exists for the return of a reply to a tribunal clerk's direction, both the direction and the pre-paid envelope for the reply should be sent by first class post (paragraph 47).

22. We recommend that at the time the new Appeals Service is launched next April, a revised complaints system should be made available to all tribunal users, which sets out clear standards of conduct for all staff, both judicial and administrative, and clear means of seeking redress (paragraph 50).

23. We recommend that the Annual Report of The Appeals Service should give an analysis of complaints made during the year in each region and action taken in response to complaints (paragraph 51).

Monitoring performance

24. We recommend that targets should be set for the hearing of interlocutory matters such as applications to set aside a decision, or applications for reinstatement of an appeal, and for the production of full written reasons for a decision (paragraph 52).

25. We recommend that in setting targets designed to improve the system of appeals, the Secretary of State for Social Security should take a co-ordinated approach across the Department's Executive Agencies, thus ensuring that targets cover aspects of appeals which are dealt with by the Benefits Agency and the Child Support Agency, as well as The Appeals Service (paragraph 54).

26. We recommend that the time taken from the date an appeal is lodged with the first-tier agency to the date the appeal is determined by an appeal tribunal should continue to be measured, in order to ensure that overall performance by the Agencies involved is improving (paragraph 55).

27. We recommend that the publication of quarterly statistics by DSS Analytical Services Division relating to appeals should be re-introduced as soon as possible (paragraph 56).

28. We recommend that the DSS and the Lord Chancellor's Department should jointly commission a comprehensive programme of research on the impact of the decision making and appeals reforms (paragraph 57).

The monitoring of 'first-tier' decisions

29. We recommend that the results of the pilot exercise concerning the monitoring of first-tier decisions coming before appeal tribunals, and the conclusions reached regarding future monitoring, should be published before the President assumes his new responsibilities in April 2000 (paragraph 60).

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