Ministers have been forced to hire more than 80 new judges in a multi-million pound effort to address appeals by welfare claimants who dispute the loss of their benefits.
The worrying backlog threatens to delay a central Government pledge to reduce Britain’s welfare bill until thousands of rulings on the removal of individual’s benefit claims are made.
Since 2007, only ten Social Entitlement Chamber judges have been recruited to oversee the appeal process but in recent months a further 84 have been hired to help tackle the caseload, at a pro-rata salary of £101,000 per year.
The delay means that in some cases claimants continue to receive payments for more than a year while their appeal is being processed.
Yesterday, it was revealed that judges have been recruited for every region of Britain in an indication of the size of the task facing the Government as it strives to reduce the £83 billion benefits bill.
An analysis by The Times found that more than 20 local authorities have seen the number of people claiming benefits increase by 50 per cent or more since the coalition came to power.
Numbers on jobseeker’s allowance have risen in more than 200 local authorities since last year. The proportion of people claiming benefits across Britain, however, fell by 0.68 per cent from May 2010 to May 2011.
Ministers have begun a programme to check whether those on incapacity benefit are actually fit to work. Some 11,000 claimants a week are being reassessed but judges have privately expressed concern over the growing queue of people appealing against being taken off benefits.
Some blame flaws in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) used to test whether a claimant is ready for a job.
In 2010-11, appeals in the Social Entitlement Chamber, where welfare appeals are heard, were up 23 per cent on the preceding year and 72 per cent up on 2008-09. The increased workload was a major factor in the extra £5.5 million cost of running the court.