Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 4

Letter to Committee Specialist from the Department of Social Security (AP10)

Modernisation of Social Security Appeals—Hearing 23 June 1999

  Your letter of 9 July to Lavinia O'Brien asked for further information arising from the hearing.

  In particular the Committee asked for further information about the impact of the rules introduced in October 1996 that required appellants positively to opt for an oral hearing. I attach further details on the package of rules introduced in 1996, explaining which we have retained and which we have amended or developed with the 1999 Decision Making and Appeals (DMA) regulations, and any relevant rationale.

  In addition the Committee asked what research is being carried out into the impact of the DMA changes. The effectiveness of the 1999 decision-making and appeals changes will be subject to a full post implementation evaluation  —  from both a policy and operational perspective. Each Agency will have a clear set of critical factors, reflecting departmental criteria, against which to measure success.

  Evaluation will take place once the effects of the changes are observable and reasonably stable  —  typically six to 12 months after implementation (which will be finished at the end of November). Because it is still very early days, no research, internal or otherwise, has yet been done to examine the impact of the changes.

  I hope this is helpful to the Committee.

Judith Taylor

Decision Making and Appeals

27 July 1999

THE 1996 REGULATIONS CHANGES

  The previous administration introduced a package of changes to the Adjudication Regulations that were intended to reduce the demanding legislative requirements which contributed to operational delays. These were introduced in amending regulations in February and October 1996. The changes affected appeals against decisions on social security benefits; child support appeals were not affected.

  The main changes were to five areas. The 1996 regulations introduced:

1.  Time limits and late appeals

    —  a tighter test for accepting late appeals.

    —  an absolute statutory time limit of six years (previously there had been no limit).

2.  Oral hearings

    —  a requirement for an appellant to opt for an oral hearing, otherwise the appeal would be decided on papers.

3.  Notice of oral hearings

    —  a requirement to give only seven days' notice of oral hearing.

4.  Manner of making an appeal

    —  a requirement for appellants to make their appeals on an approved form.

5.  Summary decisions

    —  a provision for a summary decision to be issued to the appellant at or shortly after the hearing, with a full statement provided at the request of a party to the proceedings.

  The effects of the 1996 changes on these five areas were taken into account during the drafting of the 1999 regulations and the development of relevant policy.

  The evaluation of the 1996 changes and any further changes in the 1999 regulations are explained below.

1.  TIME LIMITS

Evaluation of the 1996 changes

    —  number of late appeals have reduced by 41 per cent;

    —  number of appeals after the statutory six year time limit almost eliminated;

    —  number of late appeals refused has increased by 20 per cent.

Further changes in the 1999 regulations

  The views of the ad hoc group[1], CoT and the President of ITS were taken into account when developing policy on time limits. Other changes introduced in the 1999 regulations were:

    —  reduction of the time limit for appealing to one month;

    —  relaxation of the text for accepting late appeals;

    —  reduction of the absolute time limit from six years to one year from the date of expiry of the one month limit.

Rationale

  The rules are now clear, consistent and common. The system is simpler, easier for claimants to understand and for staff to operate.

  The test for late appeals will provide fairer and quicker decisions where death or illness, absence abroad or adverse postal conditions delay the appeal. There is additional scope to accept other special circumstances, and defining the circumstances in which late appeals can be accepted ensures everyone understands the rules.

  Time limits encourage appellants to action their appeal while the decision is fresh. This prevents delays in handling appeals but provides safeguards for those appellants who for genuine reasons have not been able to appeal on time.

  A one-month appeal time limit encourages customers to exercise their rights promptly. It ensures that appeals are resolved rapidly and that decisions are revisited while the facts are still fresh. In practice there are two months for appeals: one month to dispute and a further month to make an appeal.

2.  ORAL HEARINGS

Evaluation of the 1996 changes

  The provision has given appellants the choice about how their appeals are heard and has become a feature of the appeals system.

  In 1997-98 51,406 appeals were decided on the papers  —  about 20 per cent of the total cases cleared. The majority of these were where the appellant had not responded to correspondence.

  40-45 per cent of oral hearings result in favourable outcomes for the appellant, compared with around 15 per cent where the appeal is decided on the papers. The figures suggest an appellant is more likely to be successful if they opt for an oral hearing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those appellants who do not opt for an oral hearing are those who do not have such a strong case for appeal.

Further changes in the 1999 regulations

  Appellants will continue to be required to opt for either an oral hearing or for the appeal to be decided on the papers. Failure to opt for either could result in the appeal being struck out. This is made clear in letters and forms.

Rationale

  It is right that appellants are given a choice on how their appeal is to be decided. The majority of appellants exercise this choice and opt for an oral hearing. They are actively putting into effect their responsibility to take up the positive help provided by the appeals system.

  Removing the choice of an oral or paper hearing would not benefit appellants or the system. There is no benefit in arranging an oral hearing when the appellant does not require one. Where the tribunal on considering the papers concludes that the interests of justice are best serviced by an oral hearing, one is arranged.

  We recognise that attendance at an oral hearing allows the appellant to answer any questions which might arise. All Departmental literature will continue to enourage appellants to opt for an oral hearing[2].

  Paper hearings are now a longstanding feature of the appeals system and present a valid means for determination of appeals where the appellant does not want to attend.

3.  NOTICE OF ORAL HEARINGS

  The 1996 regulations introduced a requirement to give only 7 days' notice of oral hearing.

Evaluation of the 1996 changes

  There is no factual evidence on how this affected appeals handling.

  Feedback from welfare rights groups was that it was not long enough for them effectively to represent appellants.

  The difficulties for appellants faced with only 7 days' notice of a hearing appear to have been more to do with the fact that they received the appeals papers at the same time as the notification of the date of hearing.

Further changes in the 1999 regulations and procedures

  The regulations require the appellant to be given at least 14 days' notice of a hearing. In practice, ITS/The Appeals Service generally gives appellants a minimum of 21 days' notice at present.

  New procedures have been agreed which will result in the appellant receiving a copy of their appeals papers at the time The Appeals Service is notified of the appeal. The effect of this will be that the appellant will have the appeals papers some time, probably several weeks, before they are notified of the date of the hearing.

4.  MANNER OF MAKING AN APPEAL

  The 1996 regulations introduced a requirement for appellants to make their appeals on an approved form.

Evaluation of the 1996 changes

  The change was introduced to encourage appellants to provide adequate information to enable their appeal to be admitted. In reality, many appellants continued to make appeals other than on the approved form which resulted in tribunal chairmen having to establish the validity of an appeal before it could proceed.

Further changes in the 1999 regulations

  The requirement for an appeal to be made on an approved form has been removed.

  The Secretary of State can accept appeals as being valid as long as they are signed and he can identify the information required to accept the appeal as valid.

  An appellant will be given 14 days to provide information needed by the Secretary of State to accept the appeal as valid and the time limit for appealing can be extended by 14 days to accommodate the provision of the further information.

Rationale

  The Secretary of State will have obtained much of the relevant information to enable him to accept the appeal as valid during the disputes process. The appellant will only exceptionally be required to provide further information.

  Double handling will be avoided as the appeal can be processed immediately rather than having to go to the tribunal service to accept an appeal as valid before the appeal papers can be prepared.

5.  SUMMARY DECISIONS

  The 1996 regulations introduced a provision for a summary decision to be issued to the appellant at or shortly after the hearing, with a full statement provided at the request of a party to the proceedings. An appellant had 21 days in which to request a full statement.

Evaluation of the 1996 changes

  Summary decisions speeded up the appeals process. Appellants receive the tribunal decision at an earlier stage, because they do not have to wait for lengthy decisions to be typed and issued.

  Most people receive a summary decision on the day—before the change it routinely took up to two weeks to provide a full decision.

  Full decisions are requested in about 10 per cent of cases, of which the majority are where the tribunal's decision was not in the appellant's favour.

  There are some examples of instances where appellants have experienced unacceptable delays awaiting full statements.

Further changes in the 1999 regulations

  The time limit in which a request for a full statement must be made is extended from 21 days to one month.

  A tribunal chairman will be required to provide a statement of reasons on request. This is likely to be a more focused statement and take less time to prepare.

  The tribunal chairman will have one month in which to provide a statement of reasons where requested.


1   The group comprises representatives from NACAB, CPAG, NaCOPF, the Local Government Association, Age Concern and the Law Society, and a practising solicitor and part-time tribunal chairman. Back

2   Leaflet GL24-If you think our decision is wrong-says "If you choose to go to an oral hearing you will be able to deal with any questions or issues that arise. People who go to their hearing usually do better than those who do not". Back


 
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