Neil Bateman writes:
Many thanks to everyone who supplied examples of poor practice around MRs by DWP staff. They were very effective. Please continue to send me examples of bad practice in the light of the following:
The DWP accept that there have been widespread problems and have now issued Gatekeeper Memo 03.15.38 in an attempt to tackle the problems. The main text of this is set out below.
I hope this helps people to challenge poor practice, but better still. I hope it stops poor practice happening. Please do refer to it when making complaints. However, I am still concerned about the wording of the guidance about explanations because , at best, it could be misunderstood. Also the point about late MR request is not correct; it’s not discretionary if the criteria are met
Extract from Gatekeeper Memo 03.15.38
We have received a number of contacts from customers and Customer Representative Groups (CRG) about misunderstanding in the Dispute process. These are mainly around the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). The queries raised clearly show that there is widespread misunderstanding of the Dispute Process. Below are some of the complaints raised and clarification of the correct processes.
DWP staff are advising customers they must specify they want a MR
“Mandatory Reconsideration” is DWP terminology. It is not necessary for the customer to use those exact words in order to raise a dispute.
If a customer advises us they disagree with a decision, want us to look at it again, ask for a review, ask to appeal etc. the request should be treated as a request for an MR whether it is made in writing or verbally.
DWP staff are advising customers and advisers that they must have an explanation or a review before they can apply for an MR, and in some cases being told that 2 explanations are required (one verbal and one written) before an MR can be requested
It was never the intention that full verbal or written explanations should be a mandatory requirement prior to an MR. The explanation, whether verbal or written, is a discretionary step and whether to undertake one should be driven by the customer.
When a customer contacts DWP to dispute a decision they should be offered a full verbal and / or written explanation, but if the customer declines the offer (they may have had a previous explanation or they understand the decision but dispute it) they should then be referred straight for an MR.
MR responses are not described as such, meaning customers think they need to ask for an MR again rather than appealing
A Mandatory Reconsideration Notice should be sent in all cases where an MR decision outcome has been made.
DWP staff are effectively advising customers that it is not worth Appealing or indeed requesting an MR
Customers must be given the correct advice when contacting the Department to dispute a decision. If a customer thinks a decision is wrong we must follow the process outlined in this memo.
MR requests not being accepted by phone
All staff need to be aware that MRs can be accepted by phone and requests made by this route should be accepted without question.
Written requests for MRs not being received
All staff must be aware that written requests for an MR could be received and all correspondence should be checked to ensure MR requests are picked up as soon as possible on receipt by DWP
Refusal to accept late MRs
Acceptance of late MRs should be at the discretion of the Dispute Decision Maker and based on evidence provided by the customer for their reasons for the late submission.”
Neil Bateman LLB, Dip SA, CQSW, DMS, MEWI, APIL expert. Specialist adviser in welfare rights and social policy