Disability appeal costs 'trebled'

The cost to the taxpayer of dealing with appeals against disability benefit refusals in tribunals has more than trebled to £66 million over four years, Justice Minister Helen Grant has revealed.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne urged the Government to stop wasting taxpayers' money after uncovering figures which showed the estimated cost of tribunals hearing employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals rose from £21 million in 2009/10 to £66 million in 2012/13.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Mr Byrne said the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) needed to "get a grip" after uncovering the figures in a parliamentary question to the Ministry of Justice.

The figures, disclosed by Mrs Grant, showed that under the coalition Government the cost to the courts service increased by £24 million - up from £42 million in 2010/11.

Mr Byrne laid some of the blame at the door of Atos, the company controversially contracted to run work capability assessments on behalf of the DWP, saying "more decisions are wrong than ever before".

Speaking outside the Commons chamber, he said: "Atos is now spinning out of control and it is costing the taxpayers millions to clean up the mess.

"The hard truth is that more decisions are wrong than ever before, and the result is more and more appeals and a price tag that has soared by 30% in just the last year.

"DWP have got to get a grip of this fast before more public money is wasted."

Labour, citing House of Commons library evidence, claimed the increased costs since 2010 seemed "likely to be related to an increasing proportion of claimants appealing against a refusal of ESA, due perhaps to increased publicity and campaigns by third parties".

Mrs Grant acknowledged that a rise in the number of appeals was partly to blame for the increase in costs to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). The total number of appeals, dealt with both inside and outside tribunals, has increased 66% from 279,000 in 2009-10 to 465,500 in 2012-13, Mrs Grant said.

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Disability appeal costs 'trebled'

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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