Getting it right first time – the aim of administrative justice
In a new report, the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council makes the argument that there are too many successful appeals before tribunals, the result of poor decision taking within government. It argues there should be more emphasis on ‘getting it right’; and that departments that have unacceptably high levels of successful appeals should be made to help fund the tribunals and ombudsmen that sort incorrect decisions out. The following note is taken from the executive summary.
‘The report‘s key message is that public bodies can save money and improve the quality of service by making fewer mistakes and learning more from those they do make.
‘Every day, public bodies make thousands of decisions about individuals across a diverse landscape – welfare benefits, immigration, education, tax, health and so on. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that far too many of these initial decisions are incorrect. Across the public sector there are high volumes of
appeals (over a million each year) against decisions and complaints about service provision. A worrying proportion of these appeals and complaints – nearly 40 per cent in some cases – are upheld by tribunals or ombudsmen.
‘Incorrect decisions impact significantly on the lives of those directly concerned. Compounding the problem is the repetition of these expensive errors. Too few public bodies have in place feedback mechanisms to ensure that the outcomes of appeals and complaints are understood throughout the organisation.
‘Getting it right first time saves money. Mistakes result in considerable costs for the users of public services, the organisations concerned, and for the wider public purse. There is little evidence that the financial costs of not getting it right first time are fully understood by public bodies, partly because many of the costs can be off-loaded to tribunals and ombudsmen. As a result, the precise financial cost of poor decision-making and poor service delivery is unknown.
‘Poor service and waste of public money are unacceptable. The need for a sustained initiative to tackle the problem is long over-due. Public bodies must make it a priority to reduce mistakes and the financial and non-financial costs which go with them. This is particularly important at a time when there are significant cutbacks in public spending.
‘Taking evidence from previous studies and two case studies conducted as part of this project, this report explains what right first time means and offers practical advice on how public bodies can ensure that their decision-making or service delivery meets that standard.
‘Right first time’ means:
• making a decision or delivering a service to the user fairly, quickly, accurately and effectively;
• taking into account the relevant and sufficient evidence and circumstances of a particular case;
• involving the user and keeping the user updated and informed during the process;
• communicating and explaining the decision or action to the user in a clear and understandable way, and informing them about their rights in relation to complaints, reviews, appeals or alternative dispute resolution;
• learning from feedback or complaints about the service or appeals against decisions;
• empowering and supporting staff through providing high quality guidance, training and mentoring.
‘A key finding of the study is that in order to get things right first time, public sector bodies must be learning organisations, always understanding their users and genuinely putting their perspective at the heart of processes and systems. The report identifies the fundamentals of right first time as Leadership, Culture,
Responsiveness, Resolution, and Learning.
‘The study also highlights Practical Steps that should be adapted and followed by leaders of public bodies when reviewing their services and attempting to establish a right first time approach. These Practical Steps relate to undertaking analysis, deciding on action and encouraging monitoring and learning.
‘Public bodies with responsibility for making original decisions must take the lead in improving the quality of the service they offer. All such bodies should carry out a review of their systems, procedures and decision-making structures, using the guidance offered in the Practical Steps, to ensure that they are doing all they can to get decisions right first time. As part of this, they should audit and
report on the volumes and costs of handling appeals, complaints and reviews on an annual basis. In addition, they must take demonstrable steps to feedback learning from appeals and complaints.
‘Embedding and supporting right first time in the culture and practice of administrative justice must also be seen as the responsibility of governments and parliaments.
‘The report argues that it is time to adopt a ‘polluter pays’ approach to help promote a right first time culture. Tribunals (including, but not limited to, those within the Tribunals Service) are currently carrying a heavy share of the financial burden caused by incorrect decisions.
‘It recommends the development of funding models by which original decision-making organisations contribute to the cost of running tribunals through direct reference to the volume of successful appeals they generate.
‘This report is intended to be a practical working tool to help public bodies improve their performance, thereby reducing stress and cost for both end users and for the administrative justice organisations who deal with complaints and appeals. It is vital that all bodies serving the public should improve the quality of decision-making.
‘By implementing the findings and recommendations of this report they will not only save money but will help to improve the public’s trust and confidence in public services.’
For further information see http://www.justice.gov.uk/ajtc/docs/AJTC_Right_first_time_web%287%29.pdf