Tribunals, tigers and dogs

July 29, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Last year I wrote my first (and very likely to be only) book, Damned Scroungers and it was a real labour of love, which is just as well because trying to sell the damned thing was even harder and more frustrating than I had anticipated. That small independent bookshops might forget to pay was understandable and forgivable but for a well-regarded country bookstore to take a copy on possible sale or return, hang onto it for a month and then reject it without even taking it out of its envelope (I mean YOU, Scarthin Books of Cromford) or for the UK’s leading socialist daily to accept a copy, not bother to either read or review it and then refuse to send it back to me on the frankly pathetic ground thay they couldn’t afford the postage (I mean YOU, Morning Star) was beyond disappointing. Likewise, passing a bookshop of any size and finding it full of ghost-written celebrity myths, right-wing rants and memoirs by football hooligans, it’s a good job I am not a grumpy person by nature, to be sure.

Still, I am undaunted and I am not here today to carp but rather to celebrate, and besides, I believe the book can be downloaded free from this very site. The handful of beautiful people who have read it will remember that it opens with the following comment from a tribunal medical member: “I don’t believe you are entitled to high rate mobility component and am trying to find evidence to justify that thought.” The good news is that this week, 15 months after that appeal was heard and lost, the Secretary of State’s representative has agreed with me that the decision should be set aside on the grounds of evident bias on the part of the doctor in question. This is actually more of a triumph that you might think. I have also complained twice to Atos Healthcare about the performance and attitude of notorious Nurse Rebecca Norris, and a fat lot of good that did for me or my clients.

If the tribunal members were here with me now I think I should treat them to a chorus of “You’re not singing anymore!” especially as two of the three attempted to cover the matter up by telling fibs to the Tribunal service. Ironically, the only one of the trio prepared to agree that what I reported had actually been said was Dr Holiday, which wins him back a modicum of respect from me and also rather shows up the other panel members.

It’s not all good news in the world of social security appeals, however, and on Friday I had to fight like a tiger to get high rate mobility component in the teeth of a gale of leading questions from the (different) medical member, Dr O’Kane. In days gone by, I would attend these appeal hearings, have a ding-dong battle with my opponent from the DWP, and then the tribunal members would decide, on the basis of the points we had been flinging at each other, whose side they were on and make their decision accordingly. Nowadays it is very rare for a Presenting Officer to turn up and make the Department’s case, with the result that I am now having those ding-dongs with the tribunal members instead, since they have, in the majority of cases, taken it upon themselves to do what was traditionally the Presenting Officer’s job, and to cross-examine my clients till they are ready to drop.

Having made this point at the beginning of Friday’s hearing, and stressed, in what I tried not to be an obsequious way, to Judge Mansell that I respect her and do not consider her to be one of those nasty Judges who allows the panel members to probe away till the claimant dissolves into tears, I was highly disappointed when the doctor, uninterrupted by anyone except me, proceded to do exactly that. A good example of the effects of being unable to work on a person’s mental health, actually; she was acquitting herself with aplomb till asked when she last went on holiday, at which point she collapsed sobbing into her partner’s arms.

I should not have to explain to the tribunal that just because someone steps out of her front door from time to time it does not follow that she is able to walk a significant distance without severe discomfort. It was like trying to force a dog down the cellar steps for a bath but in the end I managed to batter the tribunal into submission and benefit was duly awarded.

It’s the weekend now and I am feeling a wee bit giddy but there is an important point to be made here. Whilst in the past the Department’s Presenting Officer would fight with all his might to win his case, the fact is that the DWP is now more likely to win if they don’t turn up to justify their decision (and the one at issue today was a particularly bad one based on an ancient medical assessment). In other words, the worse they do their job the more likely they are to be successful, and where is the logic, or the fairness, in that?

Courtesy of the author, Damned Scroungers can be downloaded free from the LPJ site at the following link


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This post was written by Felix McHugh

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