Select Committee on Social Security Eighth Report


The Social Security Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



  1. In July 1996, a Green Paper entitled Improving decision making and appeals in Social Security was published.[1] The paper proposed a radical overhaul of the system for taking decisions and handling appeals across all benefits and in child support cases. Some changes to appeals procedures, including a new requirement for appellants to 'opt' for an oral hearing of their appeal, and to receive full written reasons for a tribunal's decision only on request, were introduced almost immediately in October 1996.[2] The bulk of the Green Paper's proposals formed the basis of the Social Security Act 1998, the provisions of which are currently being implemented.

2. Under the Social Security Act 1998, considerable changes are being made by the Benefits Agency and the Child Support Agency to decision making procedures at 'first-tier' level. The aim is to improve the quality of initial decisions, with more flexible arrangements for correcting decisions where necessary, without the necessity for an appeal in every case. These changes have already been implemented for child support (from 1 June 1999), and are being phased in for social security benefits in stages between July and November 1999.

3. The Social Security Act 1998 has also introduced significant changes to the judicial and administrative structure of social security and child support appeals, as well as a further raft of procedural alterations. The aim is to provide "a streamlined and straightforward service for claimants who appeal against decisions to an independent system."[3] Key changes include:

  • the transfer of responsibility for the administration of social security benefit and child support appeals from the President of the Independent Tribunal Service (ITS) to the Secretary of State for Social Security (which took effect on 1 June 1999);

  •  the establishment of 'The Appeals Service' (to be launched in April 2000). This will consist of a new DSS Executive Agency, 'The Appeals Service Agency' headed by a Chief Executive, Mr Neil Ward, which will be responsible for the administration of appeals; and a tribunal body headed by the President of appeal tribunals, Judge Michael Harris, which will be responsible for the judicial functioning of appeal tribunals;

  • the replacement of five different types of tribunal—Social Security Appeal Tribunals (SSATs), Medical Appeal Tribunals (MATs), Disability Appeal Tribunals (DATs), Child Support Appeal Tribunals (CSATs), and Vaccine Damage Appeal Tribunals (VDTs)—with a single unified tribunal;

  • a switch from a standard tribunal of three people, to the possibility of a one-member, two-member or three-member tribunal depending on the nature of the appeal. About a quarter of tribunals will consist of a legally qualified panel member sitting alone;

  • an expanded role for tribunal clerks in making certain judicial decisions;

  • stricter time limits for the lodging of appeals; and new powers to strike out an appeal if it is considered 'misconceived'.

4. This is a period of transition between the old system of decision making and appeals and the establishment of the new.[4] It is too early to assess the impact of the proposed changes, and whether they have improved the system. Nevertheless, the preparations being made at this stage for implementation of the new arrangements are key to their success or otherwise in the future. The most significant structural changes are occurring in the handling of appeals, where appellants currently have to wait many months for an appeal against a determination to be examined—a situation described by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State as "unacceptable."[5] Therefore, at this early stage, we decided it was important to focus on the operational preparations for the new appeals system, and what needs to be done to improve performance. We intend to return in the future to the broader question of whether, as a result of the changes, the quality of decision making and standards of service for social security claimants and child support clients have improved. We are very grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry.[6]

The role of appeal tribunals

  5. Tribunals form a part of the system of administrative law in this country, providing an independent means of redress, mostly in disputes between the citizen and the State. Last year ITS/The Appeals Service dealt with 370,000 appeals relating to different social security benefits and child support. This number represents only a small fraction of the social security and child support cases handled by the various 'first tier' agencies, the Benefits Agency, the Employment Service and the Child Support Agency. Although only a relatively small proportion of cases ever come before an appeal tribunal, the tribunal determinations which are made act as a check on the decisions of the first-tier agencies, ensuring that the law is correctly and impartially applied.

The problem of delays

  6. On average, a person who challenges a DSS determination regarding their benefit or child support can currently expect to wait between seven and nine months for an appeal tribunal to hear their case. Table 1 below shows the average time taken for processing an appeal, from the date it is lodged to the date a decision is issued, for each year from 1995 -96.

Table 1    Average Clearance Times (Weeks)



Figures from ITS/Appeals Service, Ev. p. 29, para 4.5 and ITS Annual Report 1996-97, p. 15

7. The long delays can cause considerable problems to those who have appealed. Appellants' representatives told us of the worry and stress which people can experience, and the risk of serious financial hardship where the decision in dispute concerns an income- replacement benefit such as Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance.[7] Since May 1998, tribunals have been unable to consider any change in circumstance which has occurred since the appeal was lodged. The longer the delay, the more likely it is that the claimant's circumstances may have changed. For example, their state of health—relevant in connection with an Incapacity Benefit appeal—may have deteriorated. As John Eames of Wiltshire Law Centre explained to us, the result of a long delay can be that the long-awaited tribunal does not fully resolve the matter in question.[8]

8. There are various causes for the severe delays in appeals. Over the last few years there has been a substantial rise in the number of appeals. Between 1993-94 and 1995-96 the number of appeals received grew by 17.8 per cent.[9] Between 1995-96 and 1997-98, the intake of appeals rose by 51 per cent.[10] The dramatic increase in appeals was due to the unexpectedly high number of Incapacity Benefit appeals, a rise in Disability Living Allowance and child support appeals, and the introduction of Jobseeker's Allowance.[11] Table 2 shows the number of appeals received and cleared in each year since 1995-96, broken down by tribunal type. Until 1998-99, the number of appeals cleared each year was exceeded by the number received, leading to a substantial backlog of cases. At the start of the year 1998-99, ITS had an outstanding caseload of over 170,000 cases.[12]

Table 2      Numbers of Appeals Received and Cleared




Figures from ITS/The Appeals Service, Ev. p.35, Annex C.

9. The reason why backlogs built up appears to lie in the lack of resources awarded to ITS to deal with its dramatically expanding workloads. From 1996, expenditure on running costs stayed fairly static (see Table 3).

Table 3    ITS Expenditure on Running Costs



Running costs total

Figures from ITS/The Appeals Service, Ev. p. 27, para 2.14 and ITS Annual Report 1996-97, page 18.

10. Information available on the numbers of administrative and judicial staff during this past period suggests that there was no increase in staffing levels concomitant with the substantial rise in workloads. Table 4 gives a comparison between the year 1995-96, and 1997-98 when the number of appeals had increased by over 50 per cent.

Table 4    ITS Staffing Levels 1995-96, 1997-98


Full-time chairs3
Part-time chairs
Wing Members & Medical Assessors4
Administrative staff5

1 Figures taken from Report of the Independent Tribunal Service 1996, p.4.

2 Figures from ITS/The Appeals Service memorandum, Ev. p.26-27, paras 2.10 and 2.12.

3 This figure represents the allocation of Full-time chairmen, rather than the numbers in post at any one time.

4 The 1996 ITS report simply refers to "lay tribunal members". It is assumed this covers medical assessors.

5 The 1996 ITS report does not distinguish between permanent staff and casual staff. In March 1998, 85 staff out of the 936 total were casual staff.

11. Although productivity, as judged by clearance levels, rose significantly during the same period (see Table 1), we conclude that the Independent Tribunal Service has been significantly under-resourced in the past in attempting to deal with the rising tide of appeals. There are signs that the situation may be improving. During 1998-99, the total number of appeals received dropped by over 30,000 and the number of appeals cleared exceeded the numbers received for the first time in five years—see Table 2. Despite the drop in the number of appeals, funding has remained constant giving greater capacity to ITS/The Appeals Service to tackle its backlogs. A twin strategy has been adopted. First, a systematic policy of tackling older cases (defined as any case lodged before 1 October 1998) has been introduced. At the end of February 1999 when the strategy was adopted, there were 70,000 such cases representing almost half the caseload. By the end of May, the number had been reduced by half.[13] Secondly, there is a policy of seeking to reduce both the number of all other cases outstanding and the length of waiting times. Overall, the outstanding caseload has decreased from over 170,000 at the start of 1998-99 to just under 100,000 at the end of May 1999.[14]

12. ITS/The Appeals Service has also set out new indicators to monitor its performance, in recognition that average clearance times do not necessarily give a true picture of performance. Angela Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State acknowledged:

    "average clearance times mask a wide range of performance and, in past years, did not expose the full extent of the backlog of cases which was building up. Secondly, average clearance times actually provide a perverse incentive not to clear backlog cases—the more effective ITS/The Appeals Service is in tackling its backlog of older cases, the less successful it appears in terms of average clearance times as cases which have been outstanding for too long are brought to account."[15]

In future, ITS/The Appeals Service will monitor the number of cases in the backlog and the length of time these cases have been outstanding. For other cases, the age profile of outstanding cases and cases which have been cleared will be monitored.

13. The major impetus behind the changes to the appeals system brought about by the interim measures of 1996 and the Social Security Act 1998 has been the need to tackle the unacceptable delays in appeal hearings. The success or failure of the reforms will largely be judged by their success in achieving this object. As stated earlier, it is clear to us that, in the past, the Independent Tribunal Service was not given the resources it needed to cope with the vast increase in the number of appeals. We have been reassured by Neil Ward, Chief Executive designate of The Appeals Service, that he now has the resources to do the job.[16] This question is examined further below. 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.

The quality of administration

  14. The sheer pressure of dealing with the rapidly increasing workloads and a preoccupation to clear cases more quickly has led to wider failures in the quality of administration. Neil Ward, Chief Executive of ITS/The Appeals Service, told us, "What we had, not surprisingly given the large volume of cases ..was a large emphasis on haste in this organisation, 'let us move the cases, let us clear the cases quickly'...An effect of haste often is that quality begins to suffer."[17]

15. Almost all the organisations which responded to our inquiry were very critical of the present standard of appeals administration. Suffolk County Council Welfare Rights Unit said, "a long-standing problem is the administrative chaos within the Independent Tribunal Service. Until about three years ago the ITS appeared to be a well-managed and flexible organisation. However, things deteriorated and one is left with the impression that the service is in a chronic shambles possibly because of under-resourcing. This is exemplified by the unacceptable delays for tribunal hearings and continual problems with lost files and correspondence."[18] Lancashire County Council said, "we can, unfortunately, give many examples of cases involving 'lost' papers/correspondence at the Independent Tribunal Service (pre and post appeal) and the amount of staff hours required by both ourselves, the customer, and/or the clerks to try and remedy any problems that have occurred as a result."[19]

16. John Eames of Wiltshire Law Centre identified the problem bluntly as "too few staff operating under very difficult conditions."[20] Judge Michael Harris admitted that, when he became President in March 1998, ITS was "very substantially demoralised."[21] One factor was the use of casual staff on fixed term contracts to fill administrative vacancies. Casual staff, by definition, are less experienced. The temporary nature of their employment makes training more difficult. There is inevitably less commitment to the organisation, and the turnover of staff can cause problems in ensuring consistency of standards. ITS advised us in its written memorandum that the Service had employed a relatively high ratio of casual and fixed term staff "this gave ITS the flexibility to cope with peaks in caseload, but led to a high voluntary wastage rate, particularly in the clerical grades, and made training staff to a high standard more difficult."[22] Neil Ward, Chief Executive of ITS/The Appeals Service told us that not all officers received fundamental training of three or four weeks before being "let loose" on cases. Refresher training for staff had been overlooked in the past.[23]

17. Staff shortages, high staff turnover and a lack of adequately trained staff against a background of large backlogs of work have led to a serious deterioration in administrative standards. The President and Chief Executive of ITS/The Appeals Service frankly acknowledged to us the problems they had inherited. Yet both expressed optimism about the future. Responsibility for the administration of tribunals passed from the President of ITS to the Secretary of State on 1 June 1999, and will become the full responsibility of the Chief Executive of The Appeals Service agency in April 2000. With the trend in caseload more stable, there was an exercise to convert a large number of fixed-term appointment staff to permanent status;[24] a substantial programme of training was being introduced;[25] and the strategy for improving clearance of cases was beginning to yield results. Judge Harris said that "morale was now tremendous."[26]

18. The scale of the task to be confronted in improving the quality of administration of appeals should not be underestimated. In written evidence to us, ITS/The Appeals Service acknowledged that there is now "a pressing need for re-investment in system and infrastructure support in order to create the step-change into a modern customer-focused service which ITS/The Appeals Service aspires to."[27] Yet despite the strong evidence of administrative overload, Neil Ward indicated to us that staff numbers may be reduced next year.[28] 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.

Information Technology (IT)

  19. In 1997-98 a new computerised appeals-processing system, the Generic Appeals Processing System (GAPS), was introduced which enabled information about the progress of every case to be stored electronically. There were early teething problems which took time to be resolved, for example in the development of statistical reports which meant it was impossible to monitor progress against key targets.[29] A series of upgrades over the next few months is designed to produce more comprehensive statistics.[30]

20. Despite the introduction of GAPS, ITS/The Appeals Service still currently photocopies 120 million pieces of paper every year, as it collates and distributes evidence and submissions from all the parties to an appeal. It is not perhaps surprising that complaints concerning lost papers therefore arise. "Paper is a big issue for us," Neil Ward told us, "We want to see how we can better improve the IT in terms of helping decide cases and how we can use it in support of the cases as in other tribunals we have looked at, for example, which are IT based and which try to remove the amount of paper."[31] In the light of Mr Ward's aspirations to improve the IT resources available to The Appeals Service, it is disappointing to note the diminishing capital budget of ITS/The Appeals Service, which has fallen from £1.1million in 1996-97 to £0.1million in the current year.[32] We consider that investment in IT is essential in order to improve the efficiency of tribunals from the point of view of appellants, of staff, and of managers in providing appropriate management information. 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.

Judicial standards

  21. There is little public information available on the quality of tribunal decisions. A survey carried out by Greater Manchester Welfare Rights Advisers Group between April and June 1999, based on the views of 73 tribunal representatives across the region and 402 individual appeal hearings, found that although three-quarters of appeals were regarded as having been satisfactorily conducted, about one in five of all appeals were felt by representatives to be unfair or unreasonable.[33]

22. Under the Social Security Act 1998 reforms, the President of appeal tribunals who retains responsibility for the judicial functions of appeal tribunals. Within the new organisation known collectively as 'The Appeals Service', he will head the judicial, as opposed to the administrative, arm. Whereas the administrative arm, The Appeals Service agency, is an executive agency of the DSS, all those who sit on tribunals have been appointed by the Lord Chancellor to a panel of appeal tribunal members. The President himself is appointed by the Lord Chancellor. He has a key role in ensuring that appeal tribunals are properly independent of the DSS. It is the job of the President of appeal tribunals to ensure high standards of decision-making by all panel members, through the organisation of appropriate training, monitoring of panel members' performance, and liaison with the Lord Chancellor concerning the appointment of panel members. He is also expected to ensure that complaints which relate to the judicial (as opposed to the administrative) aspects of an appeal are effectively handled.[34]

Numbers of judicial members

  23. The President presides over a mixture of full-time and part-time judicial staff. The task of managing and supervising the judicial work of tribunals falls to a small group of full-time legally qualified panel members (referred to by ITS/The Appeals Service as 'chairmen').[35] In March 1999, they consisted of six regional chairmen and 45 district chairmen. This was a shortfall of nine full-time chairmen, on the allocation granted of 60 full-time chairmen.[36] In March 1999, there were a further 632 part-time legally qualified chairmen. This is the lowest number of part-time chairmen in any of the last four years.[37] The President was questioned regarding the number of chairmen available to him and whether he was satisfied there were enough. He told us that there were a sufficient number of chairmen to run the estimated number of sessions which had been predicted for the future, although he admitted that recruitment was still continuing following an initial exercise which had failed to find enough lawyers.[38] The panel of potential tribunal members will also contain people with medical or financial qualifications, or with knowledge of disability, who will sit on tribunals which raise matters to do with disability or incapacity, or where there are complex financial questions to be decided. Because the recruitment process is still continuing, ITS/The Appeals Service was unable to provide details of the actual numbers appointed to the panel. The number of judicial members available to the President is a legitimate matter of public interest, affecting both the number of appeals which can be dealt with overall and the amount of time which a tribunal can devote to each appeal. 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.

Full-time and part-time chairmen

  24. There is a question about the relative productivity of full-time and part-time chairmen of tribunals. The 1997-98 Annual Report of ITS showed that around 20 per cent of appeals were cleared in that year by 48 full-time chairmen, in addition to all their other duties. It took 700 part-time chairmen (paid on a sessional basis) to clear the remaining 80 per cent of appeals.[39] The figures suggest that full-time chairmen are more efficient in dealing with appeals. This was certainly the view of the President, who argued that "a full-time lawyer within the Service produces better quality decisions and is more cost-effective."[40] He pointed out that the majority of lawyers acting as part-time chairmen have little background in social security law:

    "when our part-timers come and sit for us they come and sit for 20 days a year, in many instances from practices which have absolutely nothing to do with social security at all...It is a problem and I think this is going to be a perennial problem. It is not really soluble. However much training you throw at people who are only doing a job for 20 days a year and not doing anything at all like it for the rest of the year, it is not going to be as effective as it should be. It is not a sensible way of spending your money."[41]

25. The DSS has responded to the President's arguments by allowing funds for a further seven full-time chairmen in the current year, 1999-2000.[42] But this does not answer the fundamental criticism the President is making of the current system where large numbers of part-timers are used to run appeals—their lack of knowledge of social security law and their limited availability makes training them to the requisite standards difficult and not cost effective. CPAG pointed out that the changes brought about by the Social Security Act 1998 may well lead to an increase in the proportion of complex cases going to appeal, with more straightforward cases being resolved at an earlier stage.[43] On the other hand, there are likely to be increased staffing costs arising from more full-time judicial appointments (complete with pension rights) compared to payment of judicial staff working on a sessional basis. The advantages in terms of greater productivity, greater efficiency in training, and better quality decisions have to be set against the potential increase in staffing expenditure. 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.


  26. The training needs of panel members are considerable. New members require training in the substantive legislation and case-law which will they will be expected to apply (which is extensive); in the organisational systems of The Appeals Service; and in the skills needed to act judicially. Those chairing tribunals have to learn skills in managing hearings, recording the proceedings, and questioning appellants—and how to juggle all these when sitting alone.[44] Yet new appointees receive only one day's induction training, and spend a further day and a half observing existing panel members in tribunals.[45] This is against a background where, as the President pointed out, "social security is a fairly obscure area for most lawyers."[46] The same is likely to be true for other panel members selected for their medical or financial qualifications or knowledge of disability. 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.

27. Nor is training necessary only for new members. The Council on Tribunals emphasised the importance of refresher training, where people already sitting on tribunals are trained together corporately so that they learn from each other's experiences.[47] Particular training is also needed in response to changes in legislation. The Council on Tribunals drew attention to the need, under the new unified system of tribunals, to train existing panel members across other jurisdictions.[48] New areas of work were being introduced into the appeals system, for example under the Tax Credits Act 1999 and the Social Security Contributions (Transfer of Functions, etc) Act 1999, which would also require training.[49] In terms of ongoing judicial training, ITS/The Appeals Service referred to a one day seminar for its 51 full-time chairmen held in June 1999 on the decision-making and appeal changes, and a planned two day residential conference for all panel members in the autumn. The President's views concerning the difficulties of training part-time panel members have already been referred to. Nevertheless if The Appeals Service continues to use large numbers of part-time panel members, it will be important that every effort should be made to overcome those difficulties. 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.

Equal Opportunities and Anti-discrimination

  28. It was in the context of training that several of the respondents to our inquiry raised the question of attitudes of tribunal members towards appellants coming before them, and the need for anti-discrimination and equal opportunities training.[50] Jude Hawes from Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau told us:

    "We have been very disturbed by comments that have been made by tribunal members and by, very clearly, very stereotypical assumptions about particular people from ethnic minorities and how families are supposed to behave, who has helped to fill in the form and what level of English people should have, which shows to me, clearly, that there is a very poor standard amongst some chairs—obviously I am not saying every chair, but some tribunal members. This impacts on the conduct of the tribunal. It is harder to say whether that impacts on the quality of the decision at the end, but certainly it impacts on the quality of the tribunal."[51]

29. The President confirmed that there is no equal opportunities training given to panel members. This is despite the fact that in 1996-97, the Judicial Training Advisory Group (which is responsible for monitoring and reviewing training needs and advising the President as to future requirements) made final recommendations about an equal treatment training programme for ITS which the then President, Judge Keith Bassingthwaite, had asked them to consider.[52] The training programme was piloted in early 1997-98. The Annual Report of ITS for 1996-97 stated: "these pilots were favourably received and the training will be delivered across ITS in the next financial year as part of the continuing training commitment."[53]

30. 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. Judge Harris advised us that such training could not be fitted into this year's training programme (1999-2000), and that he would "see whether or not it [was] possible to incorporate [courses] in next year's training round."[54] He also told us that it was proposed to combine equal opportunities training with training on the European Convention on Human Rights "because to some extent they are linked."[55] We do not see what possible link there is between the two areas. One involves training in the legal implications of the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into English Law; the other involves training in cultural, religious and disability awareness and the development of anti-discriminatory practices. 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.

31. Training is one aspect of ensuring that all panel members exhibit the highest standards when carrying out their duties. Another is the recruitment process itself. 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

32. We consider it vital that the new Appeals Service should be seen to conform to best practice regarding equal opportunities in all aspects of its work. One particular area of concern is the fair treatment of ethnic minority groups. We consider that it is desirable that the ethnicity of people sitting on tribunals should reflect more closely that of the local community. Table 5 shows the current ethnic make-up of those sitting on tribunals. Given the key role which legally qualified panel members will play under the new system, where they will be sitting alone in an estimated quarter of all appeals, there is a clear case for seeking to encourage greater recruitment of legally qualified panel members from ethnic minority backgrounds. 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.

Table 5    Ethnic Minority representation on Tribunals 1997-981

Type of Tribunal
Medical Assessors/Medical Members2(Percentage)


Of the six regional and 48 district full-time chairmen, one is from an ethnic minority

1 Taken from the Annual Report of the Independent Tribunal Service 1997-98 Appendix 1. Figures referring to the ethnicity of tribunal members have been omitted, because not relevant to the new composition of tribunals under the Social Security Act 1998.

2 Under the Social Security Act 1998, medical assessors (who do not directly participate in the decision making process) will disappear to be replaced by medically qualified panel members who will sit as part of a tribunal.

3 A carer member is usually someone with direct or indirect experience of disabilities. People with such experience will continue to be recruited as panel members under the Social Security Act 1998.

33. 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.

34. No information is collected on the ethnicity of appellants, nor is there monitoring of outcomes on the basis of ethnicity.[56] Ethnic monitoring is an important tool—by no means the only one—to assist an organisation to ensure that it operates in a fair and impartial manner. 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.

35. A related issue is the service offered by ITS/The Appeals Service to people who have difficulties understanding and communicating in English. As NACAB indicated in its evidence to us, in this situation the presence of an interpreter at a hearing can be of vital importance.[57] At present, the enquiry form sent to an appellant before a hearing is accompanied by notes which indicate that ITS/The Appeals Service may be able to provide an interpreter. The form to be completed by the appellant merely enquires whether an interpreter will be accompanying the appellant[58]. 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. We note that the Benefits Agency has put considerable thought into developing best practice in the use of interpreters.[59] We recommend that The Appeals Service should adopt Benefits Agency best practice guidance in the use of interpreters.

1   Cm 3328, July 1996. Back

2   Social Security (Adjudication) and Child Support Amendment (No.2) Regulations 1996 (S.I., 1996, No. 2450). Back

3   HC Deb 22 July 1997 vol 298 c783. Back

4   Because this is a period of transition, the interim body dealing with appeals is referred to in this report as 'ITS/The Appeals Service'. 'ITS' is used when referring to the previous body dealing with appeals, and 'The Appeals Service' when referring to the body which will formally take over appeals from April 2000. Back

5   HL Deb. 23 March 1999, col 1267. Back

6   See List of Witnesses page xxv and List of Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence page xxv. Back

7   Q. 8. Back

8   Q. 8. Back

9   Report of the Independent Tribunal Service, 1996, p. 6. Back

10   See ITS/The Appeals Service, Ev. p.28, para 4.2. Back

11   Ev. p.28, para 4.2. Back

12   Ibid. Back

13   Q.41 and HC Deb 23 June 1999 vol 333 cols 370-2w. Back

14   ITS/The Appeals Service, Ev. p.28, para 4.2 and HC Deb 23 June 1999 vol 333 cols 370-2w. Back

15   HC Deb 23 June 1999 vol 333 cols 370-2w. Back

16   Q. 37. Back

17   Q. 40. Back

18   Suffolk County Council Social Services Department, Welfare Rights Unit, Appendix 1, para 7. Back

19   Lancashire County Council Welfare Rights and Social Inclusion Services, Appendix 3, para 4. Back

20   Q. 10. Back

21   Q. 34. Back

22   Ev. p.27, footnote. Back

23   Q. 42. Back

24   Ev. p.27, footnote. Back

25   Q. 42. Back

26   Q. 35. Back

27   Ev. p.27, para 2.13. Back

28   "We will not go into next year with the same levels of staff." Q. 43. Back

29   Annual Report of the Independent Tribunal Service 1997-98, p.12. Back

30   Q. 48. Back

31   Q. 47. Back

32   Ev. p.27, para 2.14. Back

33   Study by Greater Manchester Welfare Rights Advisers Group, reported in Child Poverty Action Group's "Welfare Rights Bulletin" Issue 151, August 1999. Back

34   Ev. p.28, para 3.2. Back

35   Ev. p.26, para 2.4. Back

36   See Ev. p.26, footnote 14. Back

37   See Ev. p.26, para 2.10, which shows that in March 1997 and March 1998 there were around 700 part-time chairmen. The Report of the Independent Tribunal Service 1996 gives the number of part-time chairmen in 1996 as 644. Back

38   Q. 50. Back

39   Annual Report of the Independent Tribunal Service 1997-98, p.1-2. Back

40   Q. 50. Back

41   Q. 50. Back

42   Ev. p.26, footnote 14. Back

43   Ev. p.14, para 55. Back

44   See Q. 16. Back

45   Ev. p.31, para 5.16. Back

46   Q. 50. Back

47   Q. 29. Back

48   Ev. p.6, paras 9-10; Q. 29. Back

49   Ev. p.14 paras 57-8, Q. 29. Back

50   NACAB, Ev. p. 5, para 4.5; London Advice Services Alliance, Appendix 2, para 4.3. Lancashire County Council, Appendix 3, para 8. Back

51   Q.16. Back

52   Independent Tribunal Service Annual Report 1996-97, p.6. Back

53   Independent Tribunal Service Annual Report 1996-97, p.6. Back

54   Q. 66. Back

55   Q. 58. Back

56   Q. 59-62. Back

57   Ev. p. 7, para 6.6. Back

58   NACAB, Ev. p.7, para 6.6. Back

59   See Bridging the Language Barrier: a guide to communicating with deaf customers and the provision of interpreting services, Benefits Agency. Back

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