Tribunal closure will deny veterans pensions


Injured servicemen and military widows will lose out under Government plans to sweep away a tribunal that guarantees their pension rights, ministers have been told.

A senior legal figure has delivered a blunt warning to the Government that proposals to end the Services' Pension Appeal Tribunals (PAT) system will undermine the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces.

The military tribunals exist to hear appeals from former service personnel who have been denied a war pension by the Ministry of Defence. The tribunals are independent of Government.

But under Government plans to streamline public tribunals and courts, the military tribunals system will be absorbed into a new single entity, the Social Entitlement Chamber.

The chamber will hear military cases alongside appeals from people claiming social security benefits and child benefit.

The new system would be "seriously damaging" to military families, the senior lawyer who presides over the military tribunals has said.

Harcourt Concannon, the president of the PAT, made his warning to ministers in a private submission to the Ministry of Justice, a copy of which has been obtained by The Daily Telegraph. In the document, delivered to ministers earlier this month, Dr Concannon argues that the Government owes a debt of gratitude to service personnel and must retain a dedicated tribunal to protect their rights.

He says: "The effect of the proposals would be seriously damaging to appellants, their representatives and to the Ministry of Defence. The overall impact of the proposals to war pension appellants is therefore likely to be serious and detrimental. There are implications for the weakening of the Military Covenant.

"The continuance of such a tribunal remains an essential sign that the Covenant remains meaningful."

The PAT is the final resort for former service personnel denied a war pension by the MoD. This month it emerged that more than half of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer psychological problems do not receive a war pension and therefore cannot qualify for funding to help with their treatment.

The future of the PAT will be raised in Parliament next week by Lord Morris, a former Labour minister who is now parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.

Lord Morris said ministers should scrap plans to amalgamate military tribunals. "Servicemen and women are prepared to risk life and limb for their country, and by definition of that service, they deserve to be a special case, and their pension appeals should not be lumped in with other groupings," he said.

The Ministry of Justice insisted the new system will handle appeals more quickly for thousands of claimants each year, including ex-service personnel.

As someone who has been to a PAT I find this sad.

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