Section IV: The PIP appeal process and alleviating your stress levels
On the day
Don’t arrive late. Some venues are in huge buildings which can be used for various types of court and other kinds of tribunals. Today’s venue also deals with immigration, whereas the venue in Manchester has dozens of courts and tribunal rooms, so allow time to find yours. The tribunal clerk will come and see you before you go in, to explain that the tribunal is entirely independent of the DWP and to remind you that they will be looking back to how you were/what needs you had when the ‘outcome decision’ was made – look for this date on the front page of your appeal papers. You will be asked if you have any further evidence to hand in. You will not upset anyone if you have to take in a page or two. Make everyone’s lives easier by taking 6 copies; 3 for the panel members, 1 for the clerk, 1 in case the DWP is represented (see below) and one for you to have in front of you, as well as the one you marked up so that you can find the best bits. You will be given the names of the three panel members, the judge, medical member and the disability qualified panel member.
The clerk will tell you if there is a Presenting Officer from the DWP. Make a note of their name in case you want to refer the tribunal to something they said or asked. They are the equivalent of the representative that you are entitled to have. They will have had nothing to do with your case until that day. They may say something in the hearing about the decision in you case. They can also ask you questions and may sum up at the end of the hearing. They go in with you and come out at the end of the hearing, so take no part in the decision making. Some are helpful and may concede some or all of the points you are appealing for. Others are much less helpful. In the unlikely event that the questioning from a Presenting Officer becomes a problem, such as them not allowing you to answer a question before they ask the next one, do not put up with such rudeness. A competent representative would step in and protect you, or at least ask the judge to intervene. Alone, you may have to speak up to the judge about it. I can only comment on the 1,500 plus hearings at which I have represented, and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have had this problem, but unrepresented clients have reported experiencing problems a little more often.
Once you are all seated in the tribunal room, the judge will do the introductions and may have one or two questions for you. Most judges will quickly pass the questioning over to the medical member. He or she has two tasks; they will ask you about the history of your medical conditions, the symptoms you experience, even investigations or treatment since the date of the outcome decision. They will then focus on the date of that decision when asking you about the two parts of the mobility component – Planning & following journeys and Moving around. Just as happened today, you may be asked how you got there that day, and how far you can walk. We were in a big room today, so I suggested to Steve that he answered the doctor in multiples of the length of the room. It can help for you and the tribunal to think in terms of something you can all see, since distances can be hard to estimate. You could think about the walk from the door of the building to the waiting area, or from the waiting room to the tribunal room.
The questioning will then pass to the disability person, who will focus on the activities in your home, so preparing food, through dressing to making budgeting decisions. The judge may butt in with questions or ask them after their two colleagues. The judge will ask the Presenting Officer, if there is one, if they want to ask you any questions. It will then be your turn; so you can ask questions of any witness you have with you – you might sat that any witness could write what they were asked to, and I think it adds weight to a statement if the witness is there to potentially answer questions, from the tribunal, the Presenting Officer and you, if needed. If you want to draw attention to something in that witness’ statement, ask them what they meant by a phrase or sentence. Finally, it is your opportunity to say anything you want the tribunal to hear before the hearing ends. Experience has shown me that sometimes the right thing to do is to say nothing about a point, perhaps because I feel that the tribunal covered it well in their questioning, or because the questions they asked showed me that they understood the client’s difficulty. I will probably have gone in with case law that I considered potentially relevant, several questions that I could ask the client and final points I could make, but not all get used. The disability member at today’s hearing asked Steve about his engagement with relatives he might bump into in the supermarket. I explained in the submission what the law says, that engaging socially includes forming relationships, so new people rather than people you have known all your life. The judge may well have been inexperienced as she herself was being observed by a very senior judge, but I decided not to labour the point, instead asking Steve when he last made a new friend, hopefully bringing the focus back to where it should have been. Time will tell if we got the right decision on Steve’s appeal.
After the hearing, you may be asked to wait while the tribunal makes its decision, then invited back in, just to either be told the decision, or to be given it in writing. Don’t worry if you are told that it will be posted out to you; that happens about half of the time. Our appeal today should have begun at 11.10 but we went in just leaving 12.00. We finished at 1.00, and the tribunal was going to have to make its decision, have lunch and be ready to begin the afternoon list at 2.00, so no surprise when the judge said that it would be posted to us instead.
Hopefully, the decision is what you wanted; congratulations. If not, you must not think that this is the end of the line. A tribunal’s decision can be challenged, but on a point of law, not simply because you consider that their decision was wrong. The procedure for challenging a tribunal’s decision is outside the scope of this article, but you will find information elsewhere on the website.
If your appeal has been successful, then the tribunal clerk will email the decision to the DWP that day, so there is nothing that you need do to have it put into effect. Your increased payments and arrears should be paid in 4 to 6 weeks.