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 Report 8

Social Security Appeals, 1980

Summary of the report

The Council's report was transmitted to the Government on 27 June 1980, and tabled in the Parliament on 2 June 1981.

The Council concluded that, in principle, every decision that related to the making of a social security payment or assistance, should be subject to external review by an independent tribunal with adequate fact-finding powers and procedures, and with the authority to determine issues conclusively. It considered that the Social Security Appeals Tribunals ('SSAT') were not properly constituted and did not operate satisfactorily, and that a major restructuring of the social security appeals process was necessary.

The Council recommended that a two-tiered structure was not necessary. It recommended that the SSAT be abolished, and replaced by an improved Review Officer structure within the Department of Social Security ('DSS'). Further, the Council recommended that a Social Security Division should be established within the AAT for external review of social security decisions. The report also contains recommendations concerning primary decision-making and internal review of DSS decisions. Further advice was given by the Council subsequent to the report, supporting the conferral upon the AAT of jurisdiction to review decisions arising under the Social Security Act 1947 that were based on medical grounds.

Response to the report

Only some of the Council's recommendations were accepted by the Government.

On 9 September 1980 the Minister for Social Security issued a statement foreshadowing the introduction of legislation to give persons who disagree with decisions of the DSS, following review by the SSAT, a right of appeal to the AAT. There was also to be provision for by-passing SSAT review, where the DSS agreed that special circumstances existed.

The proposal was initially implemented by the AAT (Social Services Act) Regulations, and later by Parts II and XIX of the Statute Law Revisions Act 1981. The legislation provided that a person could appeal to the AAT, whether or not a recommendation of an SSAT had been upheld by the Director-General. Amendments also provided that an appeal could be lodged direct to the AAT, where the decision of the Director-General was one in respect of which the Director had, at the request of a person, certified in writing that an important principle of general application was involved.

The recommendation that the AAT be the sole external review tribunal with only a single-tier review process was not accepted. Rather, the Government favoured a two-tiered appeals structure, with the first level being reviewed by the SSAT and second level review by the AAT.