How sick or disabled do you need to be to qualify for state support? Is it enough to be blind or do you also need to be deaf? Is it enough to have been so seriously injured in a car accident that you can no longer walk without extreme pain, or do you have to be bed-bound?
These are the sort of questions that a new, computer-led system for determining eligibility for sickness benefit has been trying to resolve for the past year. Judging by the mounting pressure on appeal tribunals, where hundreds of thousands of people have flooded to contest the decisions, the system is not working smoothly.
There was a 56% rise during 2010/2011 in the number of people appealing rulings that they are fit for work and the tribunals system has become overloaded. Since the system was trialled at the
end of 2009, at least 390,000 people have gone to appeal; tribunal courts have been forced to open on Saturdays and to increase staff by 30% since January 2010, to deal with the backlog; the cost of these appeals is expected to reach £50m a year by the end of this month. The scale of the problem is startling; the tribunals service has radically increased its capacity in order to cope with a possible half a million new cases over the next 12 months.
19th March 2012