Taxpayer landed with £66m bill over benefits tribunals

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The cost to the taxpayer of dealing with appeals against disability benefit refusals in tribunals has more than trebled to £66m over four years, Justice Minister Helen Grant has revealed.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne urged the Government to stop wasting taxpayers’ money after uncovering figures which showed the estimated cost of tribunals hearing employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals rose from £21m in 2009/10 to £66m in 2012/13.

Mr Byrne said the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) needed to “get a grip” after uncovering the figures in a parliamentary question to the Ministry of Justice.

The figures, disclosed by Mrs Grant, showed that under the coalition Government the cost to the courts service increased by £24m – up from £42m in 2010/11.

Mr Byrne laid some of the blame at the door of Atos, the company controversially contracted to run work capability assessments on behalf of the DWP, saying “more decisions are wrong than ever before”.

Speaking outside the Commons chamber, he said: “Atos is now spinning out of control and it is costing the taxpayers millions to clean up the mess.

“The hard truth is that more decisions are wrong than ever before, and the result is more and more appeals and a price tag that has soared by 30 per cent in just the last year.

“DWP have got to get a grip of this fast before more public money is wasted.”

Labour, citing House of Commons library evidence, claimed the increased costs since 2010 seemed “likely to be related to an increasing proportion of claimants appealing against a refusal of ESA, due perhaps to increased publicity and campaigns by third parties”.

Mrs Grant acknowledged that a rise in the number of appeals was partly to blame for the increase in costs to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

The total number of appeals, dealt with both inside and outside tribunals, has increased 66 per cent from 279,000 in 2009-10 to 465,500 in 2012-13, Mrs Grant said.

She added: “The increased cost is due to inflationary uplifts and also due to the expansion of the tribunal to deal with the increased volume of appeals received.”

ESA was introduced in 2008 under the last Labour government.