Digital Appeals System Costs Six Times More than Conventional Approach

An evaluation of a pilot scheme to allow benefit appellants to engage with proceedings online finds the new system is costly and ineffective.

LONDON (Within The Law) - The court's tribunal service has shelved a digital appeals system for benefits claims because, they say, it costs almost six times more than doing it conventionally. 

The Law Gazette reports that an evaluation document for the Continuous Online Resolution (COR) pilot, part of HMCTS's reform programme, showed the costs of the system far exceeded the conventional approach. The document was provided to Jo Hynes, a research fellow at the legal pressure group, Public Law Project, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The courts had been testing Continuous online resolution software for a small number of Personal Independence Payments appellants between July 2019 and February 2020. The reforms were intended to help them engage directly with the tribunal online rather than travel in person to attend the hearing. 

Although the software was favourably received the evaluation found that ‘very few’ appeals were suitable for resolution under this approach. 

“Notwithstanding its reception by appellants who used the service, it also needs to be recognised that COR in its pilot form, does not offer great value for money,” said the report. “Bringing a case before a panel in COR costs approximately six times more than through a conventional hearing in terms of admin resource, and over twice as much in terms of judicial resource due to higher rates of adjournment and additional judicial activity at the sift stage.’

If the system were to be continued, the report identified nine recommendations. They included the risk that the exclusion of appellants who need interpreters could be discriminatory.

Dr Joe Tomlinson research director of the Public Law Project welcomed the evaluation’s ‘honest findings’. 

“This evaluation is the biggest red flag yet that the approach taken by HMCTS in implementing reformed digital services is not working as well as expected,” he said. “The evaluation points to a fundamental over-optimism about the ability of technology to slot seamlessly into existing infrastructure and reflects concerns that were raised going into the reform programme about lack of evidence and the viability of selling off-court buildings before digital services were proven to be effective.”

However, he raised concern that the report was only uncovered thanks to a freedom of information request. “HMCTS needs to build trust in the reform programme and this is not helped by the lack of transparency,” he added.

(Written by Tom Cropper, Edited by Klaudia Fior)

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