Bob Ainsworth has welcomed the news that there has been a small reduction in the average waiting time for benefit appeal hearings in Coventry, but he remains concerned that the average appeal waiting time in the city is persistently high and considerably above than the national average.
In a letter to Bob last week, the Ministry of Justice revealed that appellants whose appeals are heard in Coventry are likely to wait an average of 30.8 weeks for the disposal of their appeal, an additional 11.3 weeks when compared with the national average of 19.5 weeks.
The letter went on to confirm that a number of measures to bring down the average waiting time for an appeal hearing in Coventry, including the introduction of additional venue capacity, had resulted in average waiting times at the Coventry venue reducing from 39.5 weeks in April 2012 to 30.8 weeks in June 2012.
However, they acknowledged that waiting times in Coventry continue to remain persistently above the national average and resolved to use additional venues in Leamington Spa and Nuneaton from November 2012 to take on some of the appeals which would otherwise have been heard at the Coventry venue. They said this would mean that an additional 200 cases per month could be heard, possibility reducing the live load of cases at Coventry by 30%.
“Whilst the introduction of additional venue capacity has had a slight positive impact on average appeal waiting times in Coventry, it is clear that appellants in our city continue to wait considerably longer for their appeals to be heard than those in other areas of the country.
“I hope the use of additional venues in Leamington Spa and Nuneaton from November this year will have a further positive impact and at the very least ensure that average waiting times in Coventry reach parity with the national average.
“However, it is clear that the introduction of additional venue capacity, although welcome, in and of itself will not resolve the problems of an appeals system that appears to have reached breaking point. The system is in overload because in many cases the original decision to disallow a claimant’s benefit is incorrect and draconian. The official statistics highlight just how flawed some of the decision making is, for example in 2011-12 in Coventry 51% of Income Support appeals and 43% of Disability Living Allowance appeals were decided in favour of the appellant.
“These figures show that had the original decision been made correctly, there would have been nearly half as many appeals on these two benefits alone. This would have freed up capacity and ensured appeals were heard in a timelier manner. It is essential, therefore, that the Government not only increases capacity, but also takes action now to increase the accuracy of decision making.”