Memorandum submitted by Peter John Farrington (DM 34)
Section 1: Decision making
· How effective is the decision making process? Could it be improved, if so how?
1. Most claims are eventually dealt with appropriately, but the system is fast becoming unfit for purpose due to the increasing delays and doubts over the quality and consistency of decision making. In my own case every single decision by the DWP since 1997 has alarmingly been subsequently overturned at appeal. The system therefore clearly could and indeed must be improved, but I would suggest this can only happen with the active involvement of claimants like myself in an urgent and detailed review of current policy and procedures, not least as such direct involvement by individual disabled claimants would be in line with the Department's duties under the Disability Equality Duty of the DDA.
· Are there sufficient numbers of decision makers and is the training they receive adequate?
2. My belief is this is not simply about the number of decision makers, but their apparent lack of knowledge and understanding of the true nature of disability and how it impacts on the day to day life of individual claimants in the modern world.
· Is the decision making process clear to claimants?
3. In a word no, even those familiar with the system find many decisions beggar belief.
· How effective is the review stage of the decision making process?
4. When used appropriately it can be, the trouble is that this is still rarely the case.
· Is DWP effectively addressing official error?
5. Not at all, in fact the recent change in ethos has exacerbated rather than reduced error.
· How well does the decision making process operate for different benefits?
6. The system copes better with HB & CTB which only involve checking of verifiable facts than others like ESA and DLA which involve making objective judgements based on professional opinions especially those involving contracted out medical assessments.
· How effective has DWP's Decision Making Standards Committee been in monitoring front-line decision making?
7. Given the increasing numbers of questionable decisions it would appear not well at all.
· Is decision making taking account of the October 2007 European Court of Justice ruling on exporting DLA, AA and carer's allowance?
8. I am unable to comment on this not having any experience of this specific issue.
Section 2: Appeals
· How does the appeals system work from the claimant's perspective?
9. For many the appeals system is quite literally a life saver, especially me, but one has to wonder just how many other legitimate claimants have already fallen through the gaps in a system that still continues to use the appeals service as a form of quality control rather then ensuring that decisions it makes are correct, lawful and fair in the first place?
10. Had it not been for my own previous experience and knowledge of the system before becoming a claimant I doubt I would have been able to cope with the process at all, even with the help of an outside agency like the CAB or a Welfare Rights Officer and might well have ended up as just yet another suicide statistic.
11. As it is being forced to fight, for what is after all my right to appropriate fair and decent treatment for well over 10 years already just to get the benefit I clearly qualified for from day one, has led to a serious deterioration in my health and wellbeing that has inevitably now greatly added to both my level of disability and degree of social exclusion.
12. The papers already supplied to the Committee detailing my on-going dispute with the DWP, regarding my DLA claim from its inception in 1992 to the involvement of the B.I.P. in 1997-1999 and the subsequent appeals to tribunals Commissioners, High Court, Court of Appeal and even an application to the European Court of Human Rights as well as an initial referral to the Parliamentary Ombudsman in 1999, provide a rather unique insight into the failures of the Department during this period and especially the impact changes in ethos as well as the regulations themselves have had on the impact of the system on claimants such as me.
13. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this though is illustrated by the Secretary of State's submission to the High Court in February this year, as part of the Judicial Review of their handling of my DLA claim from 1997/8 to date, to the effect:
"The Department for Work and Pensions has no duty of care towards claimants."
14. Whilst the Secretary of State and their advisors might believe so I do not and I trust, if nothing else comes of this submission, that the Committee will now make it 100% clear to the Department and especially the Secretary of State themselves that everyone from the person opening the mail to the Secretary of State and everyone in-between owes the highest duty of care to claimants especially those whose disability already places them at a severe disadvantage and vulnerability to such negligence and/or incompetence.
15. Whilst there will always be a degree of incompetence and error in any large system, especially one as complex as that for benefits such as DLA, there is absolutely no excuse for such shortcomings continuing unabated when problems are highlighted and all those involved are fully aware that the claim is under external scrutiny.
16. In this context I trust the Committee will be duly alarmed by the fact that at the time of writing the renewal of my DLA claim from April 2008 is still awaiting resolution because of continuing delays and incompetence by the department who seem to be totally incapable of even following the clear directions of the Chair of the Tribunal hearing my appeal which had to be adjourned for a second time over three months ago because of this continuing failure by the Department to handle my claim appropriately or in a timely fashion.
· How has the introduction of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC) impacted upon claimants' experience of the appeals process?
17. Given the complexity of my own case and the involvement of each and every facet of the appeals process including tribunals, Commissioner, the Courts and finally a judicial review as well as one previous and one pending referral to the Ombudsman, my main observation would be that my case is a prime example of precisely why such a joined up approach is now required, not least given that much of the delay in getting justice I experienced was because of bouncing between the various agencies involved.
· Is the timeframe of appeals reasonable?
18. A delay of three months is not unreasonable in cases where only independent review of the facts by a tribunal can establish the most appropriate award, but any delay where such a decision should have been made in the first place is clearly not reasonable at all.
19. Even in very complex cases the initial stage of the appeals process to the lower level tribunal should, in my view, never take longer than six months from the date of the initial decision even where the claimant has asked for a review prior to lodging an appeal.
19. There can not, I believe, be any justification for it ever taking 10 years to get such an appropriate award in place however complex the claim is but, as is clearly illustrated by the papers I have already submitted, this is precisely what has happened to me.
20. Given the history of my claim it is even less acceptable that the appeal of my current award should still be pending now some 18 months after my renewal claim was lodged in April 2008 given the department's clear acceptance that my existing award at that time was justified and the fact my needs have clearly increased rather than decreased since the award being renewed had been made by the tribunal back in 2005.
· Is sufficient support available to appellants during the appeals process?
21. As part of the vast army of people now offering support and advice to claimants on a voluntary unpaid basis, either as part of an organisation like the CAB or via the many on-line communities now available, I would say only just, but that without the contribution of such help by fellow disabled people like me and others the answer to this question would sadly be a resounding no.
22. That said, those of us that provide such support are now already overwhelmed by the recent dramatic rise in the number of people experiencing problems, especially in regard to renewals of Disability Living Allowance, but also in respect of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claims, particularly from those with mental health issues forming part of their claim.
23. The current situation is clearly untenable, and if nothing is done soon will, I believe, lead to what should be avoidable tragedies in any modern society. We are not statistics we are people and so should be treated with care, respect and fairness by all those making decisions which impact so directly on the quality of our lives.
9 October 2009