MORE than one in two people with illness or disabilities who took the government to court after losing out on benefits went on to win their case, data shows.

Analysis of Freedom of Information responses shows more than half a million people were wrongly denied disability benefits from 2013 to 2018.

At the Birmingham processing centre, serving the Midlands, the success rate for disability, sickness and incapacity benefits appeals at tribunal has risen from 41% to 73% over the five-year period.

Overall, some 273,698 people who had lost disability, sickness and incapacity benefits appealed against their decision at tribunal, with 150,607 succeeding. When all types of benefits are considered, the success rate rose from 37% in 2013-14 to 69% in December 2018, with some 167,958 people successful over the period.

Charities and advice providers said the figures show the government’s benefits tests were beset by “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies”.

Most of the appeals concerned Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is paid to people who cannot work because of illness or disability; the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is paid to people with extra care or mobility needs; and Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which was introduced to replace DLA.

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Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: “The reason for the high success rates [at tribunals] because of the poor assessments carried out by health professionals. The DWP tend to base their decision purely on these assessments and disregard other evidence sent in by the claimant.”

Initial assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the private companies Capita and the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos), which have come under criticism for scoring claimants too harshly. In 2017, Britain’s most senior tribunal judge, Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, also said the quality of evidence provided by the DWP was so poor it would be “wholly inadmissible” in any other court.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, the housing and anti-homelessness charity, said: “It seems obvious that the removal of funding for legal advice in welfare benefits matters has led to a steep drop in cases being brought to tribunal, as people are no longer able to obtain legal advice and obtain representation for the early stages of the appeal process.

“If someone is already struggling to navigate the labyrinthine benefits system, then they are probably going to struggle to navigate the courts system without help. Often people in these situations are already under a lot of stress and struggling to get by, without support it’s easy to get lost in the system.

“Early advice is less costly and more efficient, and can fix problems before they are allowed to snowball. It’s very frustrating when we find ourselves helping people in court in situations that could have been resolved much earlier without the need for stressful and costly court proceedings.”