Revealed: The Secret DWP Plan To Charge Disabled People To Appeal Benefit Decisions
Whitehall officials secretly plotted to charge disabled people for the right to appeal cruel benefit decisions, the Mirror can reveal today.
An internal Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paper seen by the Mirror shows the Government also considered stopping people’s benefits altogether pending the outcome of an appeal.
Other plans drawn up by the DWP included slashing appeal times from 12 months to just three, and narrowing the scope of appeal tribunals so that fewer are successful.
The proposals are laid bare in a secret DWP document drawn up last year titled ‘Appeals Strategy – post-election planning 2015’.
The document appears to have been a response to the huge number of adverse benefit decisions which are overturned on appeal.
The DWP tried to stop the report being made public – but bungling officials failed to properly redact its contents.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said: “This secret document shows the inner workings of a department that seems determined to make life harder for disabled people and low-wage working families.
“No wonder they wanted to charge disabled people for appealing against decisions to cut their support, when more than 50 per cent of those appeal are successful.
The document sets out eight ‘policy options’ under consideration for a planned clampdown on benefits appeals after the May 2015 election.
Options listed include ‘charging for appeals’, ‘narrowing the scope of the tribunal’, ‘reducing appeal time length from 12 months to three’ and ‘remove payment of ESA (Employment Support Allowance) pending appeal’.
The officials note many of the options would be ‘controversial’ and ‘attract criticisms’ – while some could include wholesale rewriting of the law.
Last night disability charities erupted in fury at the revelations officials even considered such a clampdown.
Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “It’s deeply concerning that anyone in the DWP thought these policies were acceptable.
“If introduced they would block disabled people’s ability to seek justice and challenge benefit decisions made against them, taking away the support they desperately rely on to find work and to maintain their independence and health.
“The assessments system for people with a learning disability is already broken, with over half of Fit for Work decisions being overturned by tribunal.”
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope added: “The best way to reduce the number of appeals is to improve assessments – not make it more difficult to for disabled people to challenge incorrect decisions.”
And Child Poverty Action Group chief Alison Garnham said: “A benefit system that focuses on people has to be accountable and have fair and accessible mechanisms for appealing benefit decision.
“We hope that charges for appeals, cursory paper-based reviews, or any change that would restrict access to justice will not see the light of the day. “
A DWP spokeswoman insisted the proposals were not taken forward by the Government as actual policies.
“These ideas were drafted by staff before the last election. They do not represent Government policy and have never been sent to Ministers,” she said.