Mandatory reconsiderations: (2) Muddled language

Two days ago I published a blog in which I used strong language to criticise what the Department of Work and Pensions had said in reply to a recent Freedom of Information request.

I said:

This appears to be an absolutely outrageous interference by the executive with the rule of law.

I was careful in the language I used, because I knew, from long experience, that Government departments do not always possess the precision one would hope and expect of them when they describe their internal management practices – and many other things, too.

They were asked:

Please provide any Key Performance Indicators which apply to DWP around the handling of mandatory reconsiderations of benefit decisions, especially turnaround time.

They replied:

The key measures which are used by the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) performance are:

a) 90% to be cleared within target.

b) 80% of the original decisions are to be upheld.

They explained that the word “upheld” referred to the percentage of mandatory reconsiderations where the decisions have either been unfavourable to the claimant or where the previous decision has been maintained.

It now appears that

(1) This answer only relates to some of the mandatory reconsiderations that are conducted in relation to benefits decisions: see this explanation.  They do not include Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) and the Department will later “confirm” what other benefits apart from PIPs may be excluded from the KPI target.

(2) Although the original answer was crystal clear in stating that the target that 80% of original decisions were to be upheld was used “to monitor Mandatory Reconsideration performance” it now appears that it was not being used for that purpose at all but in order to monitor the performance of the original decision-makers.

One might be tempted to describe the Department’s performance by quoting Humpty Dumpty:

‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

Sloppy use of the English language so often leads to misunderstandings, sometimes on a significant scale.  I remember that when I was counsel to the Sizewell Inquiry in 1984 we encountered the problem that while nuclear engineers and health and safety experts were pretty good in their chosen skills, they were sadly lacking when it came to explaining to others what they were doing and what they wanted them to do.  On one occasion the CEGB’s health and safety department spent six months – and incurred huge expense – in responding to a question posed to them by the nuclear safety watchdogs only to be told that they had misunderstood the [badly phrased] question and that they had to start all over again.

My earlier blog excited enormous interest[1], a matter to which I will return in a later blog when I come to describe some of the answers and comments I received. These disclosed massive dissatisfaction with the fairness of the Department’s decision-making processes.

Someone who has studied this subject for many years has said that due to the financial cuts teams are under pressure and that a huge amount of experience and expertise has now left the department. I hope that whoever wins the General Election will remember that disabled people deserve a better deal.  In particular, if they are in danger of losing benefits which have greatly improved their quality of life, we should be doing much more to enable them to receive sensitive and expert advice to guide them through a very worrying process.

 

[1] It attracted nearly 4,000 “views” and many substantial “comments” within 48 hours of publication.

2 thoughts on “Mandatory reconsiderations: (2) Muddled language

  1. Pingback: Mandatory reconsiderations and the rule of law – Henry Brooke

  2. Pingback: 19 Comments on my blogs on Mandatory Reconsiderations – Henry Brooke

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