145 new judges needed for disability appeals
26 March 2012
by Luke Thomas
145 additional judges are to be brought on to cope with the number of people appealing against being ruled “fit to work” by government-backed assessments.
A third of people who were claiming incapacity benefit have been told that they are not eligible for its new equivalent, known as employment and support allowance (ESA), after having their cases reassessed by the private firm Atos Healthcare.
But 40% of those deemed ineligible are appealing against their ruling, with more than a third of them successfully overturning the verdict – which has led to a call for more judges to process the caseload. Current figures suggest that the cost of these additional judges will be at least £1 million a year.
Since the introduction of the work capability assessment in 2008, 209,700 cases have been brought before judges by those who have been denied the new ESA despite feeling that they should be receiving it. The total cost of the appeals was £32m during the timespan of 2009 – 2010, but rose to £48.2m for the 2010 – 2011 period.
The Atos assessments have been widely criticised by disability rights groups and charities, with many describing it as not being fit for purpose.
The chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer, recently commented that “currently appeals against ESA decisions cost the taxpayer £50m a year, a figure which will increase rapidly as the reassessments continue.
“It is unbelievable that so much money is being thrown away on a system which doesn't work and which we know can have a devastating impact on people's mental health.”
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions, however, defended the judiciary costs, saying “we think it is right that more people are getting help to find jobs, rather than being stuck on long term sickness benefits”.