Know your rights at the jobcentre: claimants have the right to appeal a decision for up to 13 months

In another high-profile legal defeat for the government, following on from the scrapping of tribunal costs, a court has just ruled that claimants have the right to appeal for up to 13 months, meaning that the previous one-month time limit has to be scrapped.

To quote from the Child Poverty Action Group, who brought the case:

“The Upper Tribunal (UT) has today declared the Government’s restrictions on access to the social security appeals system to be unlawful, in a test case brought by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) The Tribunal’s decision enhances and protects the appeal rights of the hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants who each year seek to challenge refusals of benefit…

Since 2013, where a claimant wishes to challenge a refusal of benefit, there has been a requirement to apply for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ before appealing to an independent tribunal. The Department for Work and Pensions has consistently asserted that where it decides a mandatory reconsideration application has been made too late, no right of appeal arises. The effect has been to exclude large numbers of benefit claimants from access to the justice system, and in the words of the UT, ‘result in a significant number of claimants who are entitled to benefits not being paid them’.

CJ and SG are women with serious health problems who were refused employment and support allowance and made late applications to challenge the refusal decisions. In both cases it has subsequently been established that the refusals were wrong and the claimants should have been receiving benefit. However, in both cases the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions initially refused to change the decisions and refused to let a tribunal consider whether that was correct.

The UT, chaired by Chamber President Mr Justice Charles, finds the Secretary of State’s position unlawful…

The correct position, as declared by the UT, is that where a claimant makes a mandatory reconsideration request at any time within 13 months of the original decision, she will, if dissatisfied, subsequently be entitled to pursue her challenge to a tribunal…

Commenting on the tribunal’s decision, CPAG’s legal officer Carla Clarke said:

“This is fantastic news. Not only is it a vindication for our two clients but it stands to provide justice for significant numbers of families wrongly denied the financial help to which they are entitled. This decision ensures that even if the DWP thinks there is no good reason for their delay, it cannot prevent such individuals pursuing an appeal before an independent tribunal. To have found otherwise would have been to uphold a system where the decision maker also acts as arbiter of whether an individual could challenge their decision or not – a clear conflict of interest and an affront to justice.””

Of course, rights handed down from above can be taken away just as easily, and this decision only gives claimants the ability to enter the maze of appealing DWP decisions, it’s no guarantee that they’ll manage to get through it successfully. The best defense of claimants’ rights is always through organisation, like the activity of Unite Community in Newcastle, or the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network. But still, good news is good news, and anything that gives claimants a little more breathing space is to be welcomed.

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