The Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) merged with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) on 1 July 2015. While the key features of the SSAT have been retained in the first tier, administrative and procedural arrangements at the new amalgamated framework will create change, and only time will tell whether these changes will be positive for social security recipients.
Many of the features of the SSAT that we consider essential for our clients have been preserved in the first tier of the amalgamated tribunal. These include: the right to a second tier of review, availability of payment pending outcome of the review, no filing fee and costs free jurisdiction, non-adversarial environment and timeliness.
Matters formerly heard by the SSAT are now heard by a “first tier” hearing in the Social Services and Child Support Division. While in many respects it is “business as usual”, there are some significant changes for applicants and advocates to be aware of, for example, social security matters at the first tier will soon be tape recorded. While this has always been the case for the child support division of the SSAT, it is a new procedure for the social security division.
We have been verbally reassured by the Department for Social Services that restrictions on representation are not intended to limit representation for people in the social security division and that there will be no government representative at first tier hearings in the social security division (as was the case at the SSAT).
To improve access to justice in the new tribunal it is critical that welfare rights services are well resourced. NWRN is currently in discussions with the AAT about a national duty advice scheme which would improve access to legal advice for people with social security matters. The NWRN welcomes the AAT’s consultative approach and look forward to working together constructively into the future.