RNIB is supporting a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions over its policy to make conditional telephone “offers” to people planning to appeal assessors’ decisions over their personal independence payments (PIP).
Our key concern with this practice is that, in the majority of cases, the offers made were lower than our client’s statutory entitlement. The people we supported have reported feeling under pressure to accept the lower offer. Sometimes they simply accepted the offer as they already had had a lengthy wait to get to appeal and wanted to end the stress of going through the assessment and dispute process. This process can be a huge burden in terms of time and energy for the individual.
Claire Connolly, Legal Rights Solicitor at RNIB, said:
While some of our clients have rejected the offer, we are concerned to hear from many other clients who said they felt under pressure to accept the lower offer. This is very alarming, as it means that disabled people could be missing out on payments that are vital to their welfare and independence.
The claimant (known as K), who we are supporting in this legal challenge, is represented by the Public Law Project. We are supporting this challenge because we want to see proper standards introduced across DWP so that disabled people’s rights are protected.
K's case is that the policy is unfair and unlawful: The policy encourages DWP employees to telephone benefits claimants directly in the run up to their appeal. In K’s case she was “offered’” less than her statutory benefit entitlement. The “offers” are conditional on the basis that claimants agree to withdraw their benefits appeal.
We’ve come across more than 40 cases where our clients were called with a telephone offer prior to their appeal hearing. Although the practice was much more common in the period from late 2019 to early 2020, since the story broke in The Guardian last year and was raised at the Work and Pensions Select Committee, we have heard of fewer cases. But, we know from the handful of cases we’ve had and other reports, it is still happening.
The circumstances of K's case is similar to many represented by our Sight Loss Advice Service's welfare benefits team. Our experience showed that offers were being made to our clients by telephone, after an appeal was submitted to HM Court and Tribunal Service, and our evidence revealed that, in all but two cases, the offers made were lower than our client’s statutory entitlement. This means some people living with sight loss are missing out on payments they are entitled to. These payments are vital to their welfare and independence.
We presented evidence highlighting our concerns with the policy to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in March 2020 and have consistently raised it at DWP Stakeholder Forums since mid-2019.
The DWP maintains its “Lapsing Policy” is needed for reasons of good administration. K's legal case is scheduled to go to a judicial review hearing in September/October later this year, with supporting evidence from RNIB and Law for Life (a charity who focus on public legal education).
Ultimately, the decision-making process must be based on the principles of fairness, transparency and the right to a fair trial. It is difficult to see how verbal offers, often time limited, meet these principles. We hope that there will be good news to share later this year and that appropriate standards are introduced across DWP to protect disabled people’s rights.
For further information please get in touch with our Legal Rights Service at [email protected].