People stripped of benefits could be charged for challenging decision
- The Guardian, Thursday 20 February 2014 19.45 GMT
People who have been stripped of benefits could be charged by the government for trying to appeal against the decision to an independent judge.
Critics said the proposal, contained in an internal Department for Work and Pensions document leaked to the Guardian, would hit some of the poorest people in Britain, who have been left with little or no income.
In the document about the department’s internal finances, officials say the “introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals” would raise money.
Other ideas include selling off child support debt to “the private sector to collect”, though civil servants remark that the government would be unlikely to raise more than 5-7p in the pound from the £1.4bn currently owed to the DWP. The department currently collects arrears.
Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less.
One welfare legal adviser said the number of appeals being lodged at independent tribunals would be decimated if the government introduced a charge.
Last year the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which sets policy in the area,brought in charges for employment tribunals of up to £250 to lodge a claim, depending on the kind of case being brought. The union Unisonasked judges to review the policy, saying the number of claims had dropped by more than half after fees were introduced. High court judges declared the policy lawful this month.
In the DWP Efficiency Review, which is marked “restricted”, it says the proposal for charging for social security tribunals is already “under investigation” by the MoJ and officials “intend to revisit it” in the wake of the Unison court challenge decision.