Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Looking up from the employment tribunal numbers

13 January 2015

Tribunal Receipts by jurisdiction 2009-14/15

I’ve written before, and will again, about the precipitate decline in employment tribunal cases caused by the introduction of fees.

But it’s worth noting that there has been a similar, but even more dramatic, decline in the number of Social Security cases being brought. These are challenges to benefit decisions by the DWP – primarily those such as Employment and Support Allowance that require decisions about an individual’s physical and mental health.

The graph above, taken from the latest tribunal statistics, shows the decline from over 150,000 receipts per quarter in Q4 2012/13 and Q1 2014/15 to below 25,000 per quarter in 2014/15. Even if you regard the high receipts in 2013-14 as a spike, it’s still a dramatic drop from receipts of around 100,000 a quarter before that.

The official statistics reflect FRU’s experience on the ground. We’re seeing far fewer Social Security cases being referred.

No fees have been introduced in Social Security cases. So what is going on?

The statistics bulletin suggests that the drop might be explained by the introduction of mandatory reconsideration, which requires a review by DWP before an appeal can be lodged, and the introduction of direct lodgment, which requires appeals to be sent to the tribunal rather than DWP.

I’m sure these have had an impact, but I suspect more important have been the well published problems with the contracts for assessing claimants’ medical condition. The lack of medical assessments have delayed the DWP’s initial decisions. This, in turn, delays any challenge to the tribunal – you can’t challenge a decision until it’s been made.

One other possibility is that the DWP is granting a much higher proportion of applications than in the past. Given the high historical success rate in the tribunal, that would probably be a good thing. But it seems at odds with most government rhetoric on the subject.

In any case it’s a very dramatic decline in case receipts and I don’t think anyone really knows precisely what is going on. One to keep an eye on.

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