Social Security Adjudication, Judicial Review and the Technology of Poverty

AuthorJulian Webb
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1990.tb01797.x
Publication Date01 Jan 1990
me
Modern
Law
Review
[Vol.
53
observes) a 'properly developed doctrine of
. . .
economic duress'.76 This brings
us
back
full
circle, as it were, to the main points raised in this comment. If the doctrine is to develop
(notwithstanding the fact that there may well be good arguments for speculating why it
might not),77 then the courts must consider taking a bolder stand than they have hitherto
adopted.
Social Security Adjudication, Judicial Review and the
Technology
of
Poverty
Julian
Webb"
Introduction
-
the Adjudicatory Context
'To err is human; to really mess things up takes a computer' is an aphorism which can
currently attract widespread agreement. The problems confronting the Department of Social
Security (DSS) and its clients during the drawn-out process of computerising benefit services
add a rather Kafkaesque variation to that maxim, and provide an important context in
which to discuss the Court of Appeal's decision in
R
v
Secretary
of
State
for
Social Services
ex parte Child Poverty Action Group and others.'
The case arose out of an attempt by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and others
to challenge, by way of judicial review, the substantial delays in adjudication faced by
many claimants under the Supplementary Benefits scheme. The problem of delay is one
that has become embedded in the social security system during the 1980s, as a feature
both of the level of claims being made, and the policy of staff reductions within the
DSS
and its predecessor. Judy McKnight, for example, has shown how staffing cuts within
the then Department of Health and Social Security had increased the stafflclaims ratio
in supplementary benefit cases from 1:lOO in 1979 to 1:132 in 1983.2 Although there is
some slight evidence that delays have been reduced since the introduction of Income
S~pport,~ this
is
likely, in part, to be explicable by the disappearance of time-consuming
claims for single payments, while average figures still disguise wide variations in efficiency
between, in particular, some inner city and other local
office^.^
It was the extreme delays faced by claimants in inner London that prompted CPAG
to bring this test case. CPAG built its arguments around sections 98 and 99 of the Social
Security Act 1975. (These provisions survived the superseding of Supplementary Benefit
76
See note 74 above.
77
*Associate Reader in Law, Bristol Polytechnic.
My
thanks are due to Professor Martin Partington for his comments upon an earlier draft
of
this paper
See
text to note
63
above.
1
2
[I9891
1
All E.R. 1047.
'The crisis in management'
in
S.
Ward (ed.)
The
DHSS
in Crisis,
London (Child Poverty Action Group,
..
1985), p.
30.
Figures published in October 1988 showed claims for Income Support taking an average
of
five days
to be processed
-
HC Deb,
vol.
139, col.
334,
27 October 1988 (Written Answer).
Thus
in
1987, the last
full
year for which Supplementary Benefit figures were available, the average
time taken to dispose of a claim was six days; but this concealed a range
of
disposals taking from three
to seventeen days. See the
Sirth
Report
offhe Social
Security
Advisory Commirree
(London: HMSO, 1988)
para.
6.6,
p.
35.
On
the level of delays in inner city offices, the best recent evidence (though still anecdotal)
is provided from a survey of Greater London Citizens Advice Bureaux; see
Our ofservice,
(London:
Greater London Citizens Advice Bureaux Service, 1987).
3
4
116

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