JUSTICE launches report on reforming benefits system

JUSTICE launches report on reforming benefits system

Andrea Coomber

JUSTICE has made recommendations aimed at reforming the benefits system in the UK.

The organisation’s new report makes 44 recommendations aimed at improving the administrative and procedural aspects of the benefits system.

It considers initial decision-making, through to appeals, to ensure that the system works well for everyone, regardless of their digital capability, their health, their disabilities, or their vulnerabilities.

Key recommendations include:

  • Changes to improve the quality of the health and disability assessment process including: opt-in audio recording of assessments; greater clarity over who will obtain medical evidence; claimants being assessed by assessors with specialist knowledge of their condition and an end to the outsourcing of assessments to private companies.
  • Better data collection and evaluation, including on protected characteristics of claimants, the setting of claimant commitments, the use of easements and sanctions.
  • Clear structures and rules to prevent the inconsistent and unfair application of discretion, including a statutory list of ‘good reasons’ for failure to comply with the claimant commitment.
  • Greater transparency on the use of automation and how it feeds into decisions and the technological constraints of computers systems.
  • The establishment of clear, public performance standards and an independent reviewer or regulator for welfare benefits.
  • The removal of the mandatory reconsideration stage so that claimants are able to appeal directly to the Social Security Tribunal, but with an automatic internal review required by the DWP once an appeal has been lodged.
  • Streamlining the appeals process to reduce the need for appellants to repeatedly provide the same information and greater use of tribunal caseworkers to reduce adjournments.
  • The adoption of a ‘no wrong door’ approach to applying for universal credit and managing a claim, including meaningful alternative channels of engagement.
  • An advice portal that provides information on organisations providing welfare benefits advice and which should be clearly signposted to on all webpages providing information on benefits, all paper-based forms, decision letters and mandatory reconsideration notices.

JUSTICE director Andrea Coomber said: The coronavirus pandemic has shown, more than ever, how important the benefits system is to people’s survival when they are unable to work. For many people navigating the system of asking for financial help is incredibly hard. Government should be aiming to make this as straightforward and supportive as possible.

Standard Life Foundation’s programme manager, Rebecca Graham, said: “The welfare benefits system is an important lifeline but one that is difficult to navigate and to access for many. For some, the very basis for their claim can mean that the complex stages involved in applications, appeals and adjustments are a serious barrier. These recommendations provide a roadmap for policy makers, enabling them to develop the system so it is fairer for all.”

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