Top tribunals judge questions universal credit ‘disappearance’

Well this is rather interesting… a top tribunal judge states that the DWP says there will be NO universal credit appeals between now and 2019; now why would that be? Answers on a postcard please.

A senior tribunals judge has thrown doubt over the future of universal credit after it “disappeared” from Department for Work and Pensions forecasts on the number of predicted appeals.

Judge Robert Martin, who retired as president of the social entitlement chamber at the end of last month, queried whether the government’s flagship reform of the benefits system “might prove just too impracticable to implement in full”.

Writing in the Judicial Information Bulletin, which goes out to all tribunal members, Judge Martin revealed that the DWP is no longer predicting that there will be any universal credit (UC) appeals between now and 2019.

He states that in its April 2013 forecast the DWP expected there to be 1,355 UC appeals in 2013-14 and 77,926 UC appeals in 2014-15. However, by the end of March 2014 there had been only three appeals.

Three times a year, the DWP provides the tribunals service with estimates of how many appeals there are likely to be over the next five years.

In its most recent forecast, the DWP estimated that there would be: 393,000 appeals in 2014-15; 456,000 in 2015-16; 622,000 in 2016-17; 553,000 in 2017-18; and 340,000 in 2018-19.

But Judge Martin noted that none of the predicted appeals are for UC.

“The unhappy development of UC has been recorded in reports from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee,” Judge Martin writes. “The Secretary of State has not moved from the original planned end-date of 2017 for the completion of implementation.

“In its April 2013 forecast DWP estimated that HMCTS (HM Courts & Tribunals Service) would receive 1,355 UC appeals in 2013-14 and 77,926 UC appeals in 2014-15. By March 31 2014, HMCTS had actually received three.

“In later forecast reports, ‘universal credit appeals’ had disappeared as an entry.”

Judge Martin said it was “not credible” that the government – now or in the future – could afford to abandon or even scale back the programme of welfare reform.

But, he added: “Universal credit, which was heralded by DWP as delivering £35 billion of savings, might prove just too impracticable to implement in full.”

In a statement, a DWP spokesperson said: “This is one judge’s personal opinion who we understand has now retired and it is not the usual judicial role to discuss government policy in this way.

“Aside from that, these assertions are wrong as they are based on an outdated timetable that no longer exists.

“Universal credit is already operating in 10 areas across the country and further expansion in the North West will start this month as planned. 

“UC is already making work pay as we roll it out in a careful and controlled way and jobseekers are benefiting from the positive impacts of help from a work coach, more digital facilities in jobcentres, and a written agreement setting out what they will do to find work.

“In early 2013 we instigated a shift in the delivery plan and updated appeals figures will be provided to HMCTS in due course.”

According to DWP figures released today, the number of people claiming universal credit as of March 31 2014 stood at 5,610.

Over six in 10 claimants are under the age of 25 and 70% are male.

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