Following the excellent UNISON judgment (justice is not a commodity to be traded) comes another: an Upper Tribunal decision R (CJ) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions concerning the right to challenge social security entitlement decisions. The ‘intended or unintended’ effect of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 was that, unless the DWP agreed, complaints about a reduction in personal benefits were not permissible if made more than 30 days after the decision. The only way of challenging such a rejection was by judicial review. Of the 1,544,805 DWP decisions on this issue since the 2012 Act came into force, there had not been one JR challenge on this question.
The CPAG succeeded in overturning this policy. In making its judgment the court noted that:
- The reality is that many claimants will be vulnerable for reasons including issues relating to their mental health or learning disabilities. It is obvious that there is a high risk that many of them with good claims on the merits will miss time limits. This risk has been exacerbated over recent years by changes in the scope of legal aid and local authority and advice sector provision and hence the reduction in the numbers of welfare rights officers and others who are readily available to assist claimants with their benefits claims and appeals.
This judgment comes straight on the heels of the Supreme Court judgment on employment appeal fees and, as with that case, ensures that access to justice exists not only in theory but as a practical reality in the real world in which ordinary people live.
Thanks be for UNISON, CPAG and all the other NGO’s on whom we have to rely to ensure these cases get to court; to the barristers Stephen Knafler QC and Tom Royston; and the judges – Charles J, Judge Wikeley, Judge Wright.