In December 2021, JUSTICE responded to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into health assessments for benefits.
The response drew upon the 2021 JUSTICE and AJC ‘Reforming Benefits Decision-Making‘ report, which looked at improving the administrative and procedural aspects of the benefits system to ensure the system works well for everyone.
Our response highlighted how procedures and systems could be improved to alleviate what is already a stressful process for claimants. We emphasised the importance of a procedurally fair, efficient and accessible assessment system that provides all claimants with the support they need.
We emphasised the following areas of reform in particular:
- The need to improve the health and disability assessment process, including more assessments by those with specialist knowledge of the claimant’s condition, giving claimants a choice about their mode of assessment, allowing claimants to respond to informal observations, clearer guidance on when assessors should request additional evidence and the audio recording of assessments on an ‘opt out’ basis. Health and disability assessments should no longer be outsourced to private companies.
- Higher quality DWP decision-making, such as ensuring that assessment reports and decision letters respond to all evidence received, give reasons why evidence was not relied upon and address any contradictions between evidence. Individuals should receive a copy of their assessment report automatically along with their decision. The DWP should also urgently analyse Tribunal decision notices to find out why such a high proportion of Tribunal appeals are successful.
- Allow individuals to appeal to the Tribunal before mandatory reconsideration, which would make the process less lengthy, daunting, and stressful.
- Improve the oversight of the DWP. The DWP should have an independent reviewer or regulator for welfare benefits with statutory functions. There should be proper independent evaluation of whether the DWP are meeting their performance targets.
- Better provision of advice, information and support. Legal aid funding should be reinstated for early benefits advice and we welcome the proposed introduction of advocacy support, which should be throughout the benefits process and provided independently from the DWP.
- Better data collection and evaluation of the disabilities and health conditions of claimants. This is vital to understand the accessibility and support needs of claimants.