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What impact will the recent Benefit Reforms have?

On 28th October there were a significant number of news reports on the on-going introduction of the current Coalition Government’s wide ranging and controversial welfare benefit reforms. However, a significant part of the reform likely to affect a large number of claimants went largely unreported says Personal Injury Solicitor Trevor Sterling.

It is no surprise that the implementation of such ambitious reforms are becoming further and further delayed due to the significant work required to enable the system to operate. There is however criticism to be had due to the anxiety and distress caused by such reforms and the uncertain waiting game unjustifiably imposed on individuals that are vulnerable due to ill health and disability.

The present plans include the move of all recipients of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a new benefit with broadly similar elements. It is suggested that the new system will be simpler and fairer however, it is likely to see over 600,000 people lose their current entitlement as regular assessments based on what appear to be narrower daily living/mobility activity and descriptor scorings, are introduced.

As of Monday it was intended that all new claimants and recipients who had experienced a change in circumstances would start moving to PIP. The Government has just announced that the intended implementation will now only apply to very limited geographical areas meaning that for many the waiting game continues. This is just one of a number of changes to come.

What does not appear to have been highlighted is the significant change to the benefits appeal system. We have already this year seen public criticism of the major assessment provider ATOS following their reportedly unacceptable failures in the assessment process, particularly in respect of the work capability assessment. As claimants apply or are re-assessed for working age benefits such as PIP or ESA (keeping in mind the introduction of apparently narrower scoring descriptors for each of these benefits) it is likely that the number of benefits refused/withdrawn will only increase.

At present some 40% of initial refusals go on to be successful at the appeal stage (likely due to reliance by decision makers on information contained in what transpire to be inadequate reports). The system has historically enabled on-going recovery of benefits whilst the revision/appeal decision is pending, affording some security to those reliant on benefits until a final decision is made. As of 28th October 2013 a stricter system was implemented, no longer will benefits be paid pending a revision of the decision.

In fact, for every decision refusing benefits (with the exception of Housing Benefit), there is now a mandatory process to follow. Every Claimant, within a strict 28 day time frame (from the date of decision) must apply to the DWP decision maker for ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ (MR). Only once MR has taken place will the right to appeal to the tribunal via ‘Direct Lodgement’ activate. If MR is not requested within the 28 days, the right to appeal is essentially lost.

This might, at least on the face of it, seem a sensible process; the Coalition Government suggests it will reduce the number of appeals going to tribunal as decision makers will be able to reconsider their decision at this early stage. However, you would be forgiven for being cynical of this given that the current volume of appeals before the tribunal are largely as a result of poor assessment reporting; something unlikely to change in the near future. The primary concern over the introduction of MR is the immediate withdrawal of the claimed benefit for what may be an unquantifiable period. At present there are no timeframes set down by the Government within which the DWP must complete MR. With no time frame, there can be no sanction for the DWP for not complying and in the meantime vulnerable individuals are without access to this income. There is no alternative route - unless and until such time as MR has been completed, there can be no direct appeal to the tribunal.

The future for vulnerable benefit claimants is uncertain and emphasises the need for full and comprehensive completion at the initial form stage. Whilst it should be unnecessary, it is important that support is given in respect of the assessment interview/process to ensure the correct descriptors and activity scores relevant to their disability/ill health are appropriately understood by the assessor and awarded, giving the best possible chance of obtaining the correct decision first time around and avoiding MR altogether.

For those that are suffering injury/disability as a result of an accident within the last 3 years Slater and Gordon Lawyers are at hand to pursue compensation for injuries and financial loss thus minimising the impact of these reforms. Call our Personal Injury Solicitors on 0800 916 9046 or email