THE BLOG

Claimants to Be Locked Out of Appeals as Government Denies Access to Justice

24/02/2014 15:33 GMT | Updated 26/04/2014 10:59 BST

A secret internal document from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that the coalition is planning to charge claimants for appealing against benefit sanctions.

The document, leaked to The Guardian, shows the extent of the government's assault on civil liberties.

It proposes the "introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals" to raise money for the justice department.

What is not said is that this is likely to save a huge amount of money for the DWP through allowing more unjust sanction decisions.

Currently 58% of all appeals to tribunals are successful, a shockingly large figure and evidence again of the fact that targets are driving the huge increase in sanctions rather than any rise in offences by unemployed people.

The existence of targets was confirmed last month by the work and pensions committee of MPs.

Its chair, Dame Anne Begg, said:

"An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the Government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work."

This followed years of official denials that any targets were in place, including in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted to the DWP by UnemployedNet.

We were assured by the head of Jobcentre Plus, Neil Couling, that targets were not being set.

In response to the question "Do jobcentres have league tables and/or targets for number of benefit sanctions, whether provided from the DWP centrally or by another mechanism?" he replied "No."

These targets are particularly insidious because they force advisors to look for offences where they don't exist.

2013 saw some brave whistleblowers from inside the jobcentre system tell us the truth, including that direct financial rewards are given to those who sanction the most - up to £500 each year for frontline advisers, while those who miss targets are disciplined - and fraudulent activity widespread including secret changes to files to justify sanctions, setting up appointments but not informing the claimant, and many other dodges.

Before the coalition came to power in 2010, successful appeals to the independent tribunal were running at just 20%.

The number of sanctions set another record last year at nearly 900,000, a rise of 75% over the last year of Labour government (although the number went up consistently under Blair and Brown too - successive governments have become hooked on throwing people off benefits as a way of making the unemployment rate look better).

The constant driving up of the numbers through the application of targets and incentives, and resultant dodgy practice, means it is no surprise so many appeals are successful.

A reasonable, responsible government would take this information and try to work out what is wrong with its leadership and systems that meant so many wrong decisions were made.

The coalition? The coalition hasn't done that.

The coalition has decided the best way to get the number of successful appeals down is to deny access to the tribunal.

UnemployedNet has written before that the UK has some of the lowest benefits in Europe, despite what some think, and few will be able to afford to pay a charge particularly as payments are stopped pending appeal.

The introduction of a charge will mean a defacto ban on claimants being able to bring an appeal, an afront to wider democracy as well as damning already-poor claimants to penury.

The level of sanctions is already a scandal. Barring claimants from their right to scrutiny of the wrongful decisions which have thrown them into poverty is the action of a morally bankrupt government.