Bob Ainsworth has been informed by HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) that there is currently an average wait of 55 weeks for an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal to be heard in Coventry.
In a letter sent to Bob, HMCTS confirmed that “it takes an average of 55 weeks from when an appeal was made ready to list before it is heard before a tribunal judge”. They went on to confirm that they were only just “listing” appeals from October 2011.
The Government had previously provided assurances that they were taking action to reduce appeal waiting times in Coventry, but these figures show that ESA appeal times are increasing rather than decreasing. In June 2012 the average ESA appeal time stood at 37.8 weeks, it is now 55 weeks; an increase of 17 weeks since June.
“These timescales are completely and utterly unreasonable, particularly when you are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“In spite of all the Ministerial assurances I have received that action is being taken to reduce waiting times in Coventry, it seems the opposite is true and appeal waiting times are increasing rather than decreasing.
“This is an extremely worrying situation and I have therefore written to Helen Grant MP, Justice Minister, to ask what additional steps the Government will take to tackle appeal waiting times in Coventry that are persistently higher than the national average and remain an intractable problem.
“It is clear that the Government need to do more to resolve the problems of an appeals system that appears to have reached breaking point”.
Bob Ainsworth – Member of Parliament for Coventry North East – unearthed shocking figures last month which revealed that those whose Employment and Support Allowance appeals were heard in Coventry were likely to wait three months longer on average for the disposal of their appeal when compared with the national average in England.
Ministers have now committed to implement “a number of measures to bring down the average waiting time for an appeal hearing in Coventry”. In response to a further parliamentary questions asked by Bob, Jonathan Djanogly MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Justice) said that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) would introduce additional venue capacity and would work to identify further suitable venues. He went on to say that “work is also under way to reassess the area which is served by the Coventry venue, to examine whether certain appeals which would currently be heard at the Coventry venue can be heard in other nearby HMCTS estate”.
“It is clear that the longer than average appeal waiting times in Coventry are disadvantaging some of the most vulnerable people in our city.”
“I hope the introduction of these new measures by HMCTS will ensure that average appeal waiting times in Coventry will now at least reach parity with the national average.
“I will certainly continue to monitor the situation and seek additional action should the problems in Coventry persist”.
Bob Ainsworth has unearthed shocking figures which show that the average length of time for the Tribunals Service to administer an Employment and Support Allowance appeal in Coventry was 36.3 weeks between 1 April 2011 and 31 December 2011 (the latest period for which information is available), well above the national average in England of 24.7 weeks.
The figures, which emerged in an answer to a parliamentary question asked by Bob, reveal that those whose appeals were heard in Coventry were likely to wait around an extra 12 weeks on average for the disposal of their appeal when compared with the national average in England.
The figures further reveal that average waiting times in Coventry have been persistently higher than the English national average and have substantially increased over the past year from 21.1 weeks in the financial year 2010-2011 to its current level of 36.3 weeks.
“These figures clearly demonstrate that appellants in Coventry are consistently waiting longer on average for their appeals to be heard than those in other areas of the country. This undoubtedly disadvantages those in Coventry, many of whom are already in a vulnerable position, and adds additional stress and anxiety to what is already a difficult process.
“The Government must act now to increase capacity across the Tribunals Service, but more importantly introduce measures to ensure that waiting times in Coventry reach parity with the national average.”