August 9, 2011 • 1:53 pm


“Campaigners have argued that as many as 70 per cent of claims initially turned down are subsequently upheld on appeal, although the Department for Work and Pensions says the true percentage is 40 per cent”

The Guardian, 6 August 2011

There has been considerable debate in recent weeks over the problems that have been highlighted within the benefits system in the UK.

There has been particularly strong criticism from campaigners over the way in which people are being assessed for their eligibility to claim sickness benefit.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was introduced in October 2008 as a means of assessing entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The Guardian reported on Saturday that there was considerable contention over certain benefit figures. The article refers specifically to the data for the number of appeals against a WCA decision which are upheld after initially being turned down.

The article stated that campaigners claimed that ‘as many as 70 per cent of claims initially turned down are subsequently upheld on appeal, although the Department for Work and Pensions says the true percentage is 40 per cent’.

Given the frequency with which figures based on the WCA are quoted in the press, Full Fact decided to get to the bottom of the dispute.


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes figures on WCA appeals from its introduction in 2008 up to March 2009. The data shows that the percentage of appeals which ruled in favour of the appellant was 39 per cent.

This correlates with the claim in the Guardian article that the DWP suggests the percentage is 40 per cent.

However finding the figure of 70 per cent, which the Guardian attributes to claims made by ‘campaigners’, took a little more digging.

Such a proportion is published in a report on ESA by the Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaux which states that selected bureaux in Scotland ‘provided representation at 212 tribunals at which 70 per cent of clients had their appeal upheld.’

This refers only to a specific number of cases where representation was provided by Citizens Advice Scotland and does not represent the statistics as a whole.

Although the Guardian does not specify that it is referring to any campaigners in particular, the rest of the article discuses claims made by the Liberal Youth.

The chair of Liberal Youth is also quoted as referring to both the 40 per cent and 70 per cent figures.

We have contacted the Liberal Youth for clarification on the figures and where exactly they come from and are waiting for a reply.

If the figure referenced in the Guardian is based on the Citizens Advice research, the two estimates are not so much in conflict as the article implies.


The Guardian article specifically makes reference to the fact that despite the claim by ‘campaigners’ that 70 per cent of claims are upheld at appeal, the DWP states that the ‘true percentage’ is 40 per cent.

The 212 appeals which involved Citizens Advice will presumably be included in the 28,000 total appeals handled by the DWP- from which the 40 per cent figure is derived. This means there is not necessarily a contradiction between the two figures, but the Government figure seems to be the more representative.

However, the alternative figure does raise an important question as to why the rate is seemingly so much higher when Citizens Advice is able to represent someone making an appeal.

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