**Half of disability benefits appeals won in tribunal court.
One in two people who appealed in court against a decision to deny them disability benefits were successful, analysis of five years of data shows.**
In total, more than 550,000 people won an appeal over their benefits at tribunal between 2013 and 2018.
The success rates showed benefits assessments were beset by “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies”, charities said.
The government said only around 5% of disability decisions were overturned.
Benefits assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the private contractors Capita, the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos) and Maximus.
In 2018, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee said failings in disability benefits assessments had led to a “pervasive lack of trust” in the system. It said ministers should consider taking the process back in-house.
Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: "The reason for the high success rates [at tribunals] is 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.
“However, tribunals will weigh up all the available evidence and talk to the claimant further, which enables them to make much more reasoned and balanced decisions.”
The BBC’s Shared Data Unit analysed figures from Freedom of Information responses from HM Courts and Tribunals Service and Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities (DfC).
Most of the appeals concerned Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is paid to people unable to 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 Payment (PIP), which was introduced to replace DLA
About 553,000 successful appeals were heard at tribunal about disability, sickness and incapacity benefits out of 981,000 from 2013 to 2018.
Last year, around two thirds of cases heard in Great Britain found in favour of the claimant. In Northern Ireland, the figure was around 54% in 2018-19.
What is the appeal process ?
Since 2013, people seeking to overturn a benefits ruling must complete a written challenge within a month, known as a mandatory reconsideration. If unsuccessful, people can appeal against the decision at tribunal.
The DWP said mandatory reconsiderations were introduced to ensure claimants received the right decision without having to go to court.
Critics say the process is confusing, stressful and does not give claimants enough time to gather evidence to support their appeal.
Drop in appeals
The rise in the percentage of successful appeals came despite a drop in the overall number of cases being heard at court.
Charities said the introduction of mandatory reconsiderations and cuts to legal aid had deterred people from appealing.
“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,” said Polly Neate, chief executive at anti-homelessness charity Shelter.
Four in five win court disability benefits appeals.
DWP criticised over dying man’s benefits refusal.
Benefits firm aims to curb " Reputational damage. "
The Ministry of Justice said it was “pure speculation” to suggest a decline in the number of benefit appeals was down to legal aid changes.
A spokesman said it would pilot a scheme next year offering early legal advice to people with social welfare problems.
The DWP said it had been improving the assessment process.
It said of 3.3 million PIP decisions taken from 2013 to 2019, only 5% were overturned at appeal, while of 4.4 million ESA decisions made between 2014 and 2019, only 4% were overturned at appeal.
A spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they are entitled to and spend £55bn a year supporting disabled people and those with health conditions.”
The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland said about 10% of PIP decisions were appealed, with about 2.5% successful.
Capita and Maximus said the majority of people were satisfied with the process and they were working with charities and disability organisations to improve their services further.