The truth about benefits tribunals

I get increasingly worried by the number of people who are given the impression that they must attend tribunals as if somehow the whole tribunal system is outside the scope of reasonable adjustments.  I have even heard of claimants withdrawing appeals believing that because they couldn't do it there was no point in carrying on.  It doesn't help that many advisers insist on referring to social security appeals as "court", presumably because appeal hearings are more and more held in court buildings to save money.  And the whole business of referring to tribunal chairs as "Judges" doesn't help - that change in the appeals system was a blatant intimidatory tactic.

Here are my tips to make the system work for you:

  • Make sure you, or your adviser, makes every effort to overturn the decision before a tribunal becomes necessary.  The DWP frequently makes the excuse that so many cases are overturned at appeal because new evidence is produced that hasn't been seen before.  There should be no new evidence at a tribunal - it's better to present it earlier on - be it by a witness statement, letter from GP etc.
  • Be honest with yourself and your adviser about whether you can actually manage a tribunal hearing.  There's no point in dragging yourself to a hearing only to be overwhelmed and say the shortest answers possible to get out of there!  If you can't face it there are a number of options: paper witness statements instead of oral evidence, a tribunal at home, a tribunal using video-link, or better still a robust attack of the offending decision directly with the DWP so as to head off the tribunal in the first place. 
  • Remember the tribunal must make reasonable adjustments for you and has a range of procedures designed to ensure it can meet its obligations.  These can sometimes appear disguised for administrative convenience, but they are there to be used!