Tuesday 4 December 2018 / 7:42 AM Richard Burgon

Labour to restore legal aid to help people challenge flawed benefit decisions

The next Labour government will restore legal aid for social security benefit appeals, the Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon MP will announce today.

Labour will restore legal aid funding for people seeking legal advice to appeal benefits decisions. The move will help to ensure that victims of flawed Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decisions are able to defend themselves and get the financial support they are entitled to.

Ministry of Justice figures show that thousands of ill and disabled people are wrongly denied, or face long delays in receiving, the financial support they are entitled to when benefit applications are wrongly rejected, only to be reversed on appeal many months later.

Over two thirds of appeals against Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) decisions are successful.

The number of people receiving legal aid to challenge welfare benefit decisions has fallen by 99% since 2012-13, with Labour arguing that this leaves vulnerable people unable to defend and uphold their rights. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights recently said that cuts in legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy.”

Labour also says that restoring legal aid will encourage the DWP to get more decisions right first time, reducing the costs incurred by the Ministry of Justice due to flawed DWP decisions. The Ministry currently spends over £100m of taxpayers money each year administering appeals at the Social Security and Child Support Tribunals.

Studies also show that providing people with early legal advice saves the state money as problems are resolved early and avoid spiralling into costly social problems. Citizens Advice, for example, has calculated that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state could save £8.80.

Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said:

“Flawed benefits decisions create unnecessary hardship, stress and anxiety for people often already in desperate situations due to illness, unemployment or disability. Yet legal support against dodgy benefits decisions has fallen off a cliff edge – down 99% – at a time when people need it more than ever.

“People should never be expected to navigate a complex appeals process all by themselves. That can force some to give up their claim altogether after a wrong initial decision. Others endure months of stress trying to prepare their own case. It’s bad now but will be even more difficult after Universal Credit is rolled out.

“Cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy. Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the financial support they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”