Memorandum submitted by the President
and the Chief Executive of the Appeals Service (SSA1)
1.1 The Committee conducted its last enquiry
into appeals handling in June 1999, reporting in October of that
year. At that time, the responsibility for the administration
of appeals had just passed from the President of the Independent
Tribunal Service to the Secretary of State and the focus of the
organisation was on two things: the clearance of a substantial
backlog of appeals; and the implementation of the decision-making
and appeals changes legislated for in the Social Security Act
1.2 Almost two years on, with the Act implemented
and the first full year of the new Appeals Service in operation
completed, our performance has improved significantly and we have
begun to concentrate on more ambitious improvement activities
to raise standards and reduce variations across the judicial organisation
and agency alike.
1.3 The Committee may have been able to
follow some of this progress through the Government's response
to its Eighth Report on the Modernisation of Social Security Appeals;
our Annual Report covering 1999-2000, our year of transition;
and the Government's progress report against its response to the
last Report received by the Committee in October 2000.
1.4 We very much hope that the Committee
will also have been interested in key documents outlining ourdevelopingvision
for the future of our Servicein particular and most recently
our submission to Sir Andrew Leggatt and his review team, made
last September, and our Business Plan for 2001-02, just published.
1.5 In the time available, we have not sought
to draw together a memorandum for the Committee reproducing our
progress and our vision and ambitions contained in these documents.
However, we did want to assist the Committee by setting out some
key points about the development of our organisation since the
last enquiryincluding areas in which the Committee showed
particular interestand about our priorities and plans for
1.6 This note is submitted jointly by the
President and Chief Executive of the Appeals Service.
Performance gains since 1999
2.1 The Committee will recall that, during
their last enquiry, we had embarked on a specific strategy to
address the considerable backlog of older cases which had accrued
during previous years. This twin strategy involved making determined
efforts to deal with those cases which remained outstanding for
longer than six months, as well as maintaining a focus on efficient
throughput of newer cases.
2.2 This strategy has brought us considerable
success. In March 1999, over 70,000 appeals (more than half our
caseload) had been outstanding for six months or more and in many
cases for well over a year. By April 2000, those same cases had
fallen to less than 4,000 and now to just 728and the vast
majority of those are cases awaiting decisions in lead cases at
higher courts. In addition, waiting times
for newer cases have shown improvement, with the average time
taken to get a case to first hearing falling from 15.7 weeks in
October 1999 to 14.7 weeks by the end of March 2000 and now to
13.6 weeks at the end of March 2001. In all, some 74,603 appeals
remain outstanding, half the number in March 1999.
2.3 In consolidating these performance gains
and, in particular through carefully applying our "First
In, First Out" policy for dealing with cases, ensuring equitable
and impartial treatment for all, we have considerably reduced
both the time appellants have to wait for a tribunal hearing,
and the age profile of our outstanding caseload.
2.4 Annex A shows our performance against
Secretary of State targets for 2000-01; and the current age profile
of our caseload, shown in graphic form alongside the comparable
profile shown to the Committee in June 1999.
2.5 Although we were disappointed to miss
our Secretary of State targets for the proportion of cases older
than 26 weeks
and the reduction in avoidable adjournments,
we were pleased to hit our key performance targetan average
14 week waiting time to first hearing. And the change in the age
profile of outstanding appeals since the Committee's last enquiry
is particularly encouraging.
2.6 While we are having significant success
in getting cases promptly to first hearing, it is still the case
that a significant proportion of cases are still having to be
adjourned, with the consequent inconvenience of further delay
for all parties. Of course, the majority of adjournments are unavoidable
and entirely appropriatethe priority in all cases is to
ensure that a just and correct decision is reached at the tribunal.
However, we believe more can still be done to anticipate possible
difficulties arising at the hearing and avoid adjournments. The
premium is on making each and every tribunal hearing an effective
2.7 To this end, during 2000-01 we undertook
a programme of work designed to make tribunal hearings more effective
at the first time of hearing. This programme included:
analysis and development of the role
of the tribunal clerk (including consultation with the Council
on Tribunals), backed up by a revamped basic training package;
provision of original files to tribunal
venues to ensure that panel members have all the information they
need on the history of each case;
improved procedures for arranging
the attendance of professional interpreters or signers;
the introduction of medical assistants
in cases where a medical examination takes place; and
measures to improve standards of
judicial decision making (see paragraphs 3.1 to 3.6).
2.8 This programme also included some specific
service improvements for customers, namely:
a £1.2 million investment in
improvements to our venues; and
the introduction of printed decision
notices for all parties to take away with them on the day of the
hearing at 10 main sites, with plans for wider implementation
to all sites across the country.
2.9 It is anticipated that this programme
of work will start to bear fruit in terms of performance gains
during 2001-02, with more effective tribunal hearings meaning
fewer adjournments, fewer cases having to wait longer for final
determination within the Appeals Service, and greater capacity
for first (and, usually, the only) hearings.
2.10 The next three years will see a rolling
programme of improvements to our venues with expected expenditure
of about £1 million for each year. These improvements will
bring about enhancements in access and suitability for all our
Performance targets for 2001-02
2.11 These improvements will be necessary
if we are to meet our performance targets for 2001-02. A full
set of targets, as set out in our Business Plan for 2001-02, is
reproduced, for ease of reference, at Annex B.
2.12 We will be using the coming year to
concentrate on reducing variation in performance to achieve a
more consistent standard of service to appellants wherever they
live across Great Britain. The overall waiting time target remains
14 weeks but we shall be seeking to bring those centres who cannot
yet consistently meet this level of performance up to the target
while ensuring that our best performing centres maintain or improve
upon their current levels. This coupled with the take-on of Housing
Benefit and Council Tax Benefit appeals from July 2001, and preparations
for the implementation of Child Support Reform, will make this
a very challenging target.
2.13 In addition, attention will continue
to focus on reducing the numbers and age of our older cases and,
new for 2001-02, a target has been set to ensure that appeals
referred back to us from the Social Security and Child Support
Commissioners are reheard timeously.
2.14 Attention will also focus on the end-to-end
processing of appeals. The intention is to identify and commission
improvements in the end-to-end processing of appeals, leading
to the development of cross-agency end-to-end performance targets
by April 2002.
2.15 A senior cross-agency group has been
set up. This groupthe Appeals Integrated Service Delivery
Teamis chaired by the Chief Executive of the Appeals Service
and includes senior representatives from the Benefits Agency,
the Child Support Agency and the DSS Adjudication and Constitutional
Issues Branch. The group met for the first time in January 2001
and will meet every quarter.
2.16 Terms of reference for this group are:
To develop and improve cross-agency
appeals handling and delivery to produce an improved end-to-end
service for both users and operators of the appeals system.
To identify and tackle barriers to
improving performance at both first and second tier levels.
To ensure effective arrangements
exist to improve feedback loops on quality of decisions and raising
standards of performance.
To develop proposals for an end-to-end
appeals performance management regime which incorporates targets
and enhanced Management Information Statistics to take effect
from April 2002.
2.17 As the Terms of Reference suggest,
it is intended that this group has a wide remit to look not only
at end-to-end performance to identify where and how improvements
can be made but also at the effectiveness of processes, both in
terms of the hand-over arrangements between agencies and the arrangements
for feeding back to first-tier agencies on the quality of their
2.18 This group is deliberately a senior
groupit was important that it should have the authority
to make any necessary changes to processes or systemsbut
it is intended that it will receive input from a large number
of staff actually processing or presenting appeals work in all
agencies. To facilitate this, it was decided to utilise the opportunities
provided by the Departmental Intraneta dedicated discussion
group on the Intranet has been set up and sponsored by the Chief
Executive of the Appeals Service. This discussion group has only
been running for a couple of weeks, but the signs are that it
will produce fruitful lines of enquiry for the senior team to
2.19 The work of this group will complement
the President's own statutory report on the standards of first-tier
decision-making, which will be presented to the Secretary of State
3. RAISING STANDARDS
3.1 The quality of the tribunal hearing
and the tribunal decision respectively are the two most important
elements of the whole appeals system, which exists so that justice
is done, and seen to be done. This puts a premium on the achievementand
maintenanceof the highest standards of judicial work. Two
factors are key herethe training and monitoring of panel
3.2 Training of panel members is the statutory
duty of the President, who is advised by a Judicial Training Advisory
Group. During 2000-01, the Appeals Service ran two substantial
packages of training for all panel members. Firstly, a package
of equal treatment training, and secondly, training in the European
Convention on Human Rights.
3.3 In addition, induction training was
provided for new members and for members who were ticketed to
hear new types of case (particularly relevant this year as additional
members were ticketed for DLA appeals, to cope with the rise in
intake in this benefit type). Training in monitoring and appraisal
skills was also delivered to full-time chairmen; and the annual
conference for Regional and District Chairmen concentrated on
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (HB/CTB) training, which
will now be delivered by full-time chairmen to those part-time
legally qualified panel members (LQPM) who are to be ticketed
for these appeals.
3.4 The training programme for 2001-02 is
just as challenging as that successfully delivered during 2000-01.
This has been agreed following a thorough review of judicial training
conducted by our Judicial Training Advisory Group which resulted
in the formulation of a Judicial Training Plan for 2001-02 and
beyond. Aside from the HB/CTB training for selected LQPMs the
key elements of this plan are a series of residential conferences
for lawyers and regional training days for all panel members.
There will also be induction training for new members appointed
during the latest recruitment round.
3.5 As important as training is the monitoring
and appraisal of panel members. Our previous memorandum to the
Committee in 1999 explained that we were in the process of developing
arrangements for the monitoring of panel members by District (full-time)
Chairmen. These arrangements were finalised and formally promulgated
in June 2000we continue to support our full-time chairmen
in the effective implementation of the appraisal system.
3.6 To a very significant degree, the successful
implementation of judicial training packages, the appraisal system,
and other essential judicial management activities depend on our
full-time chairmen. In recognition of this fact, and to support
an ambitious programme of judicial management activity during
2001-02, we have agreed with the Lord Chancellor that our complement
of full-time chairmen will be increased. During the first half
of the year, the Lord Chancellor's Department will recruit on
our behalf one additional Regional Chairman, to be based in Birmingham,
and five additional District Chairmen.
Quality of administration
3.7 The dramatic reduction of the backlog
and other performance gains have allowed us over the past 18 months
to concentrate to a much larger degree on the quality of our administrative
work. A significant factor here has been our investment in getting
the right staff in place with the right skills to do the job.
3.8 Throughout the mid-90s a deliberate
decision was taken by our predecessors to employ a significant
proportion of fixed-term contract and casual staff to provide
flexibility in dealing with fluctuations in caseload and the uncertainty
then facing the future of the Independent Tribunal Service. Whilst
this offered the organisation flexibility, morale and quality
inevitably suffered. So, during 1999-2000 we abandoned the previous
reliance on temporary staff. The vast majority of staff are now
established civil servants with a long-term vested interest in
the future development of this service.
3.9 In addition, we have just completed
a major restructuring of our operationalfront linemanagement
structure, with the creation of 15 new local management posts.
These changes are designed to ensure that we build on the improvements
that we have already made in the delivery of our services, to
increase our capacity to manage effectively further necessary
changes and to provide the right level of support to judicial
3.10 Alongside these changes we have continued
our significant investment in training and development. Careful
targeting has been key in our approach and with senior team members
taking responsibility for individual elements of the training
we have ensured a strong link with improvements in business performance.
Over the past year the majority of our national training activity
focused on basic training for appeals processing staff and tribunal
clerks; equal treatment and ECHR training for all staff; customer
service skills; and leadership and management development.
3.11 Details of this and other programme
training will be included in the Agency's Annual Report. This
commitment to improving performance through effective training
saw us achieve Investors in People accreditation in November 1999.
3.12 Our training programme for 2001-02
is no less ambitious. It will concentrate on three main areas.
Business critical including training for the introduction of Housing
Benefit and Council Tax Benefit appeals; business improvement,
encompassing a variety of customer service modules; and management
and staff development, focusing on effective leadership and performance
4. PUTTING SERVICE
4.1 Alongside our performance improvements
and renewed emphasis on the quality of our work, we have also
sought to adjust the culture of the organisation so that individual
administratorsand, indeed, our whole improvement programmeare
much more clearly focused on the needs of all those who use or
rely upon our services.
4.2 Not only have we secured service improvements
through our effective tribunals programme (see para 2.7 above),
but we have also taken a more pro-active approach during the year
to finding out what is actually important to our customers. For
the first time in several years, we conducted a customer survey.
We are currently in the process of considering key findings from
4.3 We have consulted with representative
organisations through a new National Forum and an underpinning
network of tribunal user groups. We have specifically sought support
from RNID in the conduct of a Disability Audit to establish which
parts of our service need improving. The results of this audit
are forming part of a wider diversity strategy which in turn will
inform our service planning for the future.
4.4 Supporting this renewed focus on customer
service are a new family of leaflets under the "Putting Service
First" banner. They include:
"a statement of Appeals Service
aims and standards", which sets out the standards of service
appellants can expect from us (and against which we will measure
our performance in the coming year);
"information about our service",
which gives general information about our service and the different
stages of the process from making an appeal to the actual hearing;
"what to do if things go wrong",
which tells appellants what they can do if they are not satisfied
with our service.
4.5 This last leaflet sets out our complaints
procedures and deals with the process for making a complaint either
about the administration of an appeal or about the conduct of
members at the hearing. Both sets of procedures were reviewed
prior to publication of this leaflet.
5. IN CONCLUSION
5.1 During the hearing in 1999, the Committee
voiced concerns about how the new relationship between President
and Chief Executive might work in practice. We believe it has
been a productive relationship which has provided a model for
increasingly productive partnerships between judicial officers
and administrative staff at all levels. During the past year,
senior officers of the judicial organisation and the agency have
agreed the key, joint, priorities for the future development of
our Service, and we have each developed complementary plans for
improving those elements of the Service which fall to us.
5.2 We hope that this brief note will assist
the Committee. More detailed information about our vision for
the futureand our work programme for the next yearcan
be found in our submission to the Leggatt review and the Business
Plan for 2001-02 respectively, both of which are available on
our website at www.appeals-service.gov.uk.
1 The time the appeal was received in the Appeals
Service to the time of the first hearing. Back
The proportion of cases older than 26 weeks achieved was 17 per
cent as against our target of 10 per cent. Back
The incidence of avoidable adjournments achieved was 10 per cent
as against our target of 25 per cent. Back