SOCIAL security claimants are a disgruntled group, and in truth they have much about which to feel aggrieved. The throw of the dice in life has been cruel for many of them. They are frequently afflicted by a constellation of social ills -- bad housing, unemployment, chronic illness, and the like. Many of them share the view that they have been let down by the social security system. Very few of the appellants we interviewed regarded a visit to a social security appeal tribunal as an agreeable or interesting day out: for most it was an unnerving or traumatic experience to be endured in the hope that it might bring about some improvement in their situation. It is indeed an indication of the desperation that many claimants feel that they are prepared to enter the unfamiliar arena of an appeal hearing. Most of them approach the tribunal in a spirit of hope rather than expectation. Their experiences of dealing with officials have engendered a certain fatalism, and it is perhaps surprising that they retain any optimism at all about their prospects. But many express some confidence that any independent, fair-minded tribunal will be bound to see the intrinsic merit of their claim, whatever the law might say.
We regarded it as a central part of our study to find out what claimants made of their appearance before social security appeal tribunals. The so-called consumer's perspective is valuable in assessing the performance of institutions such as courts or tribunals. One can argue that, however impartially the law may be applied and however refined the procedures adopted might be, searching questions need to be asked about the operation of the system if ordinary citizens remain dissatisfied about the way their appeal has been handled.
A reading of the early research on social security tribunals