MR was introduced as an additional dispute process by section 102 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012; regulations followed shortly after. The new rules aimed to:
- resolve disputes as early as possible;
- reduce unnecessary demand on Her Majesties Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) by resolving more disputes internally;
- consider revising a decision where appropriate;
- provide a full explanation of the decision; and
- encourage claimants to identify and provide any additional evidence that may affect the decision, so that they receive a correct decision at the earliest opportunity.
NAWRA has been very concerned with the implementation of MR for some time, particularly in terms of the catastrophic drop in appeals and importantly the effects on those that suffer from cognitive impairments. Consequently, in February this year we sent a survey to members and asked them to feedback to us about how MR was working in practice. To our great surprise we received almost 100 responses. Responses were vivid and detailed and members kindly went to some great length explaining the issues with MR.
The results from this survey were used to provide a MR workshop jointly facilitated by committee members Julie Henry and Daphne Hall at the NAWRA meeting in Stoke in March earlier this year. We had a lively and engaging debate on what was happening with MR and we shared strategies for coping with some of the common pitfalls.
Further, these results were also used as a basis for an in depth article for Adviser magazine (authored by Eri Mountbatten) published in this month’s edition (May/June, ed. 169). The article looks at MR in detail and aimed to evaluate the level to which MR is (or rather is not) streamlining the dispute process. Some of the key findings are set out below:
- 75% disagreed that ‘disputed decisions are resolved as early as possible’
- There is widespread confusion built into this process often leading to (in many cases) insurmountable challenges and additional barriers, particularly affecting vulnerable claimants. For example, DWP are routinely sending out explanation of reasons letters when claimants are asking for MRNs. This is then used as a reason to prevent appeal rights form progressing
- DWP decision makers are routinely misleading claimants about their appeal rights and encouraging them to drop their appeals
- Attitudes of DWP Decision-makers are reported as being rude, placing excessive emphasis and justification on poorly evidenced or biased DWP reasoning. Most respondents reported some form of high pressure tactics and misinformation employed by DMs, some might say, deliberately intended to deter claimants from appealing.
- There is evidence of widespread maladministration with DWP routinely losing crucial evidence
- Unsurprisingly, claimants with cognitive impairments, such as those with mental ill health or learning disabilities, were reported as having suffered the most as they found it hardest to understand processes, manage intimidating conversations with DMs, understand complex terms (written or verbal) or engage effectively without extensive support and advocacy.
For the full article and findings please read the May/June edition of Adviser magazine (ed.169).