Reforming Benefits Decision-Making

The Challenge 

The benefits decision-making system forms a huge part of the administrative justice landscape. But the UK system has been performing poorly. Claimants are incorrectly denied benefits too often and there have long been concerns about systemic problems in decision-making by the Department for Work and Pensions. Many give up when faced with a long fight for their entitlement, appeals that remedy wrong decisions take too long and it is ultimately many of the most vulnerable in society that suffer.

As part of the Reform Programme, HMCTS is piloting online appeals for Personal Independence Payments, with the intention to make the appeals process more efficient. However, this sort of reform risks increasing digital exclusion, an ongoing challenge for the benefits system since the introduction of the “digital by default” Universal Credit system, which the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights described as having had an immense impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK. Beyond England and Wales, the Scottish Government is trying a new approach, building a system for devolved disability benefits premised on claimant dignity.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented increase in benefits claimants, as many people find themselves out of work for the first time. Universal Credit finds itself under heightened scrutiny and pressure, as in excess of 1.4 million people have applied for it since the pandemic hit. The need is greater than ever for an expert project to propose recommendations for a system that is accessible, makes timely and accurate decisions and works better for the people who need support.

The Working Party 

Chaired by Lord Low of Dalston CBE, this joint JUSTICE and Administrative Justice Council Working Party will aim to make practical and realistic recommendations to improve the benefits decision-making system for claimants.

The Working Party will consider how to:

a) improve first instance and mandatory review decision-making by the Department for Work and Pensions on benefits entitlements;

b) reduce wait times for claimants appealing their entitlements to social security tribunals throughout the UK and to identify case management techniques that can improve efficiency and reduce delay; and

c) ensure online benefits appeals are accessible to all users.

To inform its review the Working Party will conduct comparative research into other jurisdictions, with a focus on the devolution of benefits in Scotland.

The Working Party expects to report by Spring 2021. Reforming Benefits Decision-Making is generously supported by BlackRock and Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP.

Members of the Working Party

  • Chair: Lord Low of Dalston CBE
  • Judge Mehran Behvandi, Social Entitlement Chamber
  • Judge David Chrimes, Social Entitlement Chamber
  • Dr Naomi Creutzfeldt, University of Westminster
  • Richard Drabble QC, Landmark Chambers
  • David Hawkes, AdviceUK
  • Anne Killeen, Z2K
  • Owen McCloskey, Legal Officer, Northern Ireland Law Centre
  • President Judge Anne Scott, First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, Social Security Chamber
  • Diane Sechi, Solicitor, Law Centres Network
  • Professor Rob Thomas, University of Manchester
  • Libby Wright, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (Observer)
  • Corporate sponsor: Manjinder Tiwana, Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP
  • Corporate sponsor: Rebecca Chalk, BlackRock
  • Heidi Bancroft, Administrative Justice Council
  • Rapporteur: Alex Walters, JUSTICE

Members of the Working Party’s sub-groups:

  • Professor Michael Adler, Edinburgh University
  • Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, University of Ulster
  • Karen Grayson, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Dr Jennifer Harris, University of Bristol
  • Judge Chris Purnell, Social Entitlement Chamber
  • Jonathan Rackham, Disability Advocate
  • Callum Scott, Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre
  • Jon Shaw, Child Poverty Action Group Scotland
  • Lisa Smith, Law Commission