Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Citizens Advice Scotland

SUMMARY

  Citizens Advice Scotland is the umbrella organisation for Scotland's network of 77 Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offices. We welcome the opportunity to respond to this Work and Pensions Committee inquiry. Our response is based on the actual experiences of CAB clients, anonymised and presented as client case evidence. Disability and sickness benefits are a major issue for CAB clients, and this is an area in which Citizens Advice Scotland has done previous work, including a 2003 report, "Riding the benefits roller-coaster" and a briefing on "Evidence and decision-making in medically assessed benefits" (attached as an appendix to this report).

What lessons can be learned from the Pathways to Work pilots in shaping the direction of the reform of incapacity benefits?

  We believe that the success of the Pathways to Work pilots is largely down to the flexible and personalised support that the scheme can offer. It is therefore vital that the importance of a properly resourced service is recognised in relation to supporting incapacity benefit claimants into work.

What are the implications of DWP's proposals for the new structure of incapacity benefits? Do they address the complications inherent in the existing incapacity benefits system? Is a dual benefit the right approach? Could it be improved?

Decision making

  Our main concern is that decision-making in relation to incapacity benefits is currently poor. Drivers to improve decision-making need to be introduced as part of the reform process, otherwise the introduction of a two-tier benefit will lead to increased uncertainty for claimants and undermine their confidence in trying out work.

Complexity

  The experiences of CAB clients highlight areas where the complexity of the current system needs to be addressed. Support for those who have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions and support for those who have not needs to be streamlined. Passported benefits, such as free prescriptions and access to the social fund, should be made available to all claimants on low incomes due to sickness/disability.

Will the reforms help improve work incentives for sick and disabled people?

  Citizens Advice Scotland believes that the best way to encourage sick and disabled people to move into work is to ensure that they are not penalised by the benefits system for trying out work. In this regard, we would welcome an extension of the permitted work rules and an increase in the earnings disregard for housing and council tax benefits for sick/disabled people who are trying out work. We do not believe that increased conditionality is necessary to encourage sick/disabled people to move closer to the labour market.

Is it possible to distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot?

  We are concerned that people with changeable conditions should be able to move from "rehabilitation support allowance" to "disability and sickness allowance" if their health condition deteriorates.

What are the implications of the reforms on levels of fraud and error?

  Levels of fraud in relation to incapacity benefit are negligible, and levels of error are very low. We therefore believe that the focus of the reforms should be to provide an effective service to claimants.

Will the reforms address the main areas of concern with the current system?

  As well as the issues highlighted above, we are concerned at the Government's intention to introduce a "holding benefit" paid at jobseeker's allowance rates. We note that the current proposals contain no drivers to ensure that the DWP carries out medical examinations within the 12 week period proposed. We also note that the holding benefit would be financially disadvantageous to claimants, and that it would come at a particularly vulnerable time—when claimants were coming to terms with the onset of a serious, limiting health condition. We believe that this may exacerbate debt problems and increase the levels of financial exclusion experienced by sick/disabled people.

Are people with different disabilities and health conditions, in both pilot and non-pilot area, given appropriate support by Jobcentre Plus? Is there a tendency to help those perceived as closest to the labour market?

  We note that the DWP's own research highlights that some incapacity benefit personal advisers are already reluctant to work with claimants who are further away from the labour market.

Can the reformed systems support those with variable and manageable medical conditions or those who are able to work part-time? Are those with mental health difficulties adequately supported?

  We believe that there is a need for more support and incentives for those who are only able to work part-time, including an increase in the earnings disregard for income support for sick/disabled people moving into work. We are also concerned that the needs of people with mental health conditions are specifically addressed. The reformed benefit needs to have sufficient flexibility to cope with changeable, unpredictable conditions, especially in relation to any conditions placed on the receipt of benefit (eg work-focused interviews).

Is Jobcentre Plus sufficiently resources to deliver the Pathways pilots, both in terms of staffing and finances? Are they equipped to deal with a reform programme for incapacity benefit?

  There are already concerns, highlighted in the DWP's own research, that some personal advisers may be carrying case loads which are too large to offer sufficiently personalised support to all claimants. Citizens Advice Scotland believes that ensuring the necessary resourcing will be vital to the success of the reform proposals.

What type of jobs are participants of Pathways moving into? Are they receiving appropriate in-work support to enhance job retention?

  We do not have sufficient evidence to comment on the types of jobs that participants are moving into. However, we believe that it is vital that more research is done in this area. The jobs provided need to be sustainable if they are to help tackle social exclusion among sick/disabled people.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Citizens Advice Scotland is the umbrella organisation for Scotland's network of 77 Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offices. These bureaux deliver frontline advice services throughout the country, from the city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the Highlands, Islands and rural Borders communities.

  2.  Citizens Advice Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into the reform of incapacity benefits and Pathways to Work. Our response is based on the actual experiences of CAB clients, anonymised and presented as client case evidence.

  3.  This is made possible by the service's social policy feedback mechanism. Bureaux throughout Scotland highlight the problems in their area by sending in specific case examples that are indicative of the wider issues. This information is collated and analysed by Citizens Advice Scotland in conjunction with social policy statistics from each bureau. All the cases used in this response have been received between June and September 2005.

  4.  Disability and sickness benefits are a major issue for CAB clients in Scotland. The table below shows the number of enquiries dealt with under each benefit heading. Sickness benefits cover incapacity benefit and statutory sick pay. Disability benefits include severe disablement allowance and industrial injuries disablement benefit as well as disability living allowance and attendance allowance. The income support heading covers all income support enquiries, including enquiries about disability premiums and income support paid for reasons of incapacity to work.


2003-04
As a % of social
security benefit
enquiries 2003-04
2004-05
As a % of social
security benefit
enquiries 2004-05

Sickness benefits enquiries
13,776
10.3%
14,918
10.7%
Disability benefits enquiries
23,559
17.5%
26,392
19.0%
Income support enquiries*
15,767
11.7%
12,611
9.1%
Total social security benefit enquiries
134,393
100%
139,210
100%
Total enquiries
406,147
N/A
430,621
N/A

  * Note that, from October 2003, pension credit rather than income support became payable to those over 60 years old. This has resulted in a reduction in clients enquiring about income support

  5.  Citizens Advice Scotland has carried out previous work in the area of sickness and disability benefits. Our 2003 report "Riding the benefits roller-coaster"[96] looked at clients' experiences of claiming, from initial form-filling through the decision-making process to appeal. This report was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate, tabled by the then Archie Kirkwood MP on 3 February 2004. Our conclusion was that poor decision-making in relation to sickness and disability benefits was creating uncertainty and financial insecurity for clients. We also produced a briefing, in conjunction with our sister organisations in England and Wales, entitled "Evidence and decision-making in medically-assessed social security benefits". It made recommendations in relation to improving the decision-making process for sickness and disability benefits. The briefing is attached as an appendix.

  6.  Citizens Advice Scotland is also keen to engage fully with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in relation to the consultation process on incapacity benefit reform as we believe that we have valuable evidence about claimant's experiences. We responded to the pre-green paper consultation[97] and look forward to responding in full to the green paper when it is published.

  7.  In making our response to the Committee's inquiry, we have addressed our comments, where we have them, under the bullet point headings contained in the Committee's press release. Our main areas of expertise are in relation to claimants' experiences of claiming incapacity benefits and problems with the structure of the current system. We have less expertise in relation to the workings of the Pathways to Work scheme. Our comments are laid out in the same order as the headings appear in the press release.

REFORMS TO INCAPACITY BENEFITS

  What lessons can be learned from the Pathways to Work pilots in shaping the direction of the reform of incapacity benefits?

  8.  Citizens Advice Scotland welcomes the success of the Pathways to Work pilots in supporting sick and disabled people back into work. We believe that this success is largely down to the flexible and personalised support that the scheme can offer. However, we remain concerned about the wide use of personal adviser discretion, especially in relation to sanctions. We have followed with interest the DWP's ongoing evaluation of Pathways to Work and note the following themes:

    —  Personal advisers as "enablers"—Pathways to Work personal advisers view themselves as enablers rather than enforcers and feel that gaining the confidence of claimants and letting them move at their own pace are important to getting co-operation.[98] This is reflected in claimants' views too, with claimants generally seeing personal advisers as helpful, supportive and "not pushy".[99]

    —  Workload issues—There are already capacity and workload issues for Pathways to Work personal advisers. This may lead to advisers sacrificing the quality of the interviews they are carrying out to focus on quantity, with a subsequent loss of service for claimants.[100]

    —  Sanctions—The use of sanctions (and other interventions) varies according to the workload and attitudes of individual personal advisers, although there is evidence of management scrutiny of this area.[101]

    —  Improved options—Research into claimants' experiences notes the need to improve the range of help available to people engaged in Pathways to Work. It also highlights the importance of timing, so that information about services is given to people at a time when it is relevant to them.[102]

  9.  These findings highlight the importance of attitude and quality support services in getting incapacity benefits claimants to engage initially with Pathways to Work and to eventually move forward in relation to the labour market. The role of the Pathways to Work personal adviser is seen as a complex and skilled role, where judgement has to be used as to when and how to engage with claimants. Importantly, it is recognised that overloading an adviser with cases will result in less effective outcomes for claimants. It is therefore vital that the importance of a properly resourced service is recognised in relation to supporting incapacity benefit claimants into work. If resources are not available to support the reforms, then it is unlikely that we will see the same success rates in relation to moving clients into work.

What are the implications of DWP's proposals for the new structure of incapacity benefits? Do they address the complications inherent in the existing incapacity benefits system? Is a dual benefit the right approach? Could it be improved?

DECISION-MAKING

  10.  Our biggest concern in relation to the reforms is the impact that they will have on decision-making about entitlement to incapacity benefits. Our case evidence highlights on-going problems for clients facing assessments and reassessments of their entitlement to benefit. There is also some evidence that clients are subjected to a cycle of claims, assessments and appeals, where they find themselves held to be no longer entitled to benefit a short time after they have won an appeal in relation to a previous decision.

    An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was awarded incapacity benefit in November 2003 due to mental health problems. Following attendance at a medical examination in May 2004, her entitlement was withdrawn. She appealed this decision and her entitlement was reinstated by the tribunal. In November 2004, the client attended another medical and again, entitlement was withdrawn. The decision was appealed and her entitlement was reinstated in April 2005.

  11.  Evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux of poor decision-making is backed up by statistics from The Appeals Service. The latest statistics[103] show that, across all appeal types, 48.7% of incapacity benefit appeals relating to a personal capability assessment were successful. This figure rises to 73.6% where both the claimant and a representative attended.

  12.  We are concerned that the new two-tier structure proposed for incapacity benefit will further exacerbate existing problems with decision-making. The new system will call on decision-makers not only to decide whether someone is or is not entitled to an incapacity benefit, but whether, additionally, the severity of their condition merits the "rehabilitation support allowance" or the "disability and sickness allowance". Our concern is that, if reform goes ahead without sufficient improvement in the decision-making process, claimants will face increased levels of uncertainty in relation to their entitlement. This, in turn, could undermine attempts to encourage claimants to try out work-focussed activities as they may believe that any work-related activity will reflect negatively on their ongoing entitlement to benefits.

  13.  Citizens Advice Scotland is therefore calling on the DWP to address problems with decision-making as part of the reform process. In our 2004 briefing, "Evidence and decision-making in medically-assessed social security benefits",[104] we made the following recommendations:

    —    Entitlement to medically-assessed benefits should remain until an appeal has taken place.

    —    Atos Origin should introduce something akin to a "mystery shopping" system which would monitor doctors' behaviour during medical examinations.

    —    Procedures should be put in place to ensure that decision-makers consider evidence from a wider variety of sources.

    —    Entitlement to medically-assessed benefits should not be withdrawn by DWP decision-makers on the basis of evidence from a Medical Services doctor only, where the customer has been in long-term receipt of that benefit.

COMPLEXITY OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM

  14.  We do not believe that the reform proposals will address a number of the complications inherent in the current system. Indeed, we are concerned that complexity will increase even further as a result of the introduction of a dual benefit system coupled with increased conditionality (and sanctions to enforce this).

  15.  As far as complications in the current system are concerned, our main concerns are around streamlining support for those who have and have not paid sufficient national insurance contributions and access to "passported" benefits.

    —    National Insurance contributions—Our case evidence shows that claimants often do not understand the difference between support for those who have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions (incapacity benefit) and support for those who have not (income support paid on the basis of incapacity for work). In order not to miss out on entitlement, the current system requires that claimants should claim both incapacity benefit and income support if they are unsure of their contributions record. Those entitled to income support should continue to claim incapacity benefit, even although they do not get paid it, in order to maintain their National Insurance contribution record. And those entitled to incapacity benefit may also need to claim income support at various stages of their claim in order to supplement their income. Add into this equation incapacity benefit for those incapacitated in youth, which replaced severe disablement allowance, and does not require any National Insurance contributions, and it is perhaps understandable that claimants are confused.

    It is not clear from the information currently available whether the reform proposals will address this issue. Citizens Advice Scotland believes that contributory and non-contributory support should be streamlined as part of the reform process.

    —    "Passported" benefits—The term "passported" benefits refers to additional benefits which claimants automatically become entitled to on the basis of receipt of one of a range of means-tested benefits (income support, jobseeker's allowance and pension credit). They include free prescriptions, help with health costs, free school meals and access to the social fund. Because incapacity benefit is not a means-tested benefit, it does not automatically entitle claimants to receive any of these benefits (although, of course, someone in the same circumstances claiming income support on the basis of incapacity will be automatically entitled). However, those who claim incapacity benefit may find that they qualify for income support after a year, because at this stage they become entitled to the income support "disability premium". Those who don't qualify for income support, or who fail to claim at the appropriate time, miss out on valuable financial help.

      An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who visited the bureau on behalf of his son. His son had cerebral palsy. He had previously been claiming severe disablement allowance and income support and had been entitled to free eye tests, glasses and prescriptions. However, he had been switched to incapacity benefit and could no longer claim these passported benefits. The client's son needed glasses and, because of his disability, he tended to break them regularly. The bureau notes that, although the son's income would have increased slightly by claiming incapacity benefit, he was missing out on this additional support.

  16.  The introduction of tax credits has further complicated the situation. Payments for children, which would previously have been made through income support, are now made through child tax credit, and this causes some claimants to lose out on "passported" benefits.

  A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had been in receipt of incapacity benefit since developing post-natal depression following the birth of her twins. She was moving house and needed help with the cost of furniture and fittings. However, because she did not qualify for income support, she could not access the social fund for a loan or a grant to support her. The bureau notes that, prior to the introduction of child tax credit, she would have had her income topped up by income support in relation to her children. She would therefore have qualified for a social fund payment. The bureau helped the client to access charity furniture and to make an application for social work support.

  17.  Citizens Advice Scotland believes that the current reform process provides an ideal opportunity to ensure that the additional support provided by "passported" benefits is available to everyone on low incomes, regardless of whether they are claiming income support or incapacity benefit.

Will the reforms help improve work incentives for sick and disabled people?

  18.  Citizens Advice Scotland's biggest concern in relation to work incentives for sick and disabled people, is ensuring that the benefits system does not penalise people for trying out work. Creating a benefits environment where sick and disabled people can feel confident to try out work, or to build up their hours to a comfortable level, without fearing that it will have a negative impact on their financial circumstances is the best way to encourage people to move closer to the labour market.

  19.  The case below highlights how CAB clients can fall foul of the current rules and the serious consequences that this can have on their engagement with the labour market.

    An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was in receipt of housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support on the basis of incapacity for work. She had long term mental health issues. The client initially volunteered in a charity shop and found this work beneficial for her health. She had the opportunity to take up paid work in a commercial shop and contacted Jobcentre Plus for advice. She initially started working for only a few hours a week, with earnings below £20. However, her hours increased. On contacting her Job Broker, she was advised that her entitlement to benefits would continue as long as she did not work for more than 16 hours a week. [This was incorrect. The client would lose entitlement to income support if she worked for more than 16 hours a week. However, her ongoing entitlement to both income support and housing/council tax benefit would be reduced (and perhaps ended altogether) by her earnings even if she was working for less than 16 hours per week.] The client was called in for a medical in relation to her income support claim and told the doctor that she found work beneficial for her health but wished to reduce her hours as she was finding the current arrangements too tiring. The Medical Services doctor reported her work to the Jobcentre, which disallowed her income support claim, with a knock on effect on housing and council tax benefit. The client was left with no income. Rent and council tax arrears were also accruing. Her health deteriorated to such a degree that she could not continue in her paid employment. The Jobcentre disallowed her incapacity benefit claim for National Insurance credits, and she therefore could not get her income support claim reinstated. The bureau intervened to try to sort out her situation with the Jobcentre.

  20.  The Government has taken significant steps forward in this area by, for instance, extending the linking rules for incapacity benefit so that claimants can return to the same rate of benefit if they have to leave work. We would, however, like to see this implemented in advance of the current date of October 2006. Another improvement is the announcement of extensions to the "permitted work" rules, which allow people to try out work while still claiming incapacity benefit, within certain earnings limits and with the involvement of a Jobcentre Plus personal adviser. The introduction of a £40 "back to work" credit for certain incapacity benefit claimants is also very welcome.

  21.  However, we believe the reforms provide an opportunity to go much further to ensure that it is easy and financially viable for sick and disabled people to become more involved in the labour market. The "permitted work" rules allow those claiming incapacity benefit to engage in some work. At the "higher rate", people can earn up to £78 per week, but they can only do so for a year and they must have in place a plan to move them into full time work. At the "lower rate" people can earn up to £20 (less than four hours per week at the national minimum wage rate of £5.05) per week for an indefinite period of time.

  22.  Housing and council tax benefits (and income support) are also affected by a move into work, even under the "permitted work" rules. This fact is often not understood by CAB clients. Any reduction in entitlement to housing and council tax benefit can call into question the viability of work for those on low incomes. In some cases, clients additionally face paying back overpayments of these benefits because they were not aware of the need to inform their local authority of their earnings at the time. In order to prevent this situation acting as a disincentive to sick and disabled people trying out work, Citizens Advice Scotland would like to see a larger earnings disregard for housing and council tax benefit for those engaged in "permitted work".

  23.  We do not believe that increased conditionality is necessary in order to encourage sick/disabled people to move closer to the labour market. In fact, the evidence highlighted above from the Pathways to Work pilots suggests that it is the flexibility non-"pushy" attitude of personal advisers that encourages claimants to engage.

Is it possible to distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot?

  24.  As highlighted at paragraph 10 above, Citizens Advice Scotland is concerned that decision-making in relation to whether claimants qualify for incapacity benefit at all is currently poor. We are therefore apprehensive that an additional requirement to distinguish between those who have "serious" and those who have "potentially manageable" conditions can be introduced without further degrading decision-making.

  25.  We also have concerns as to how those people with changeable conditions will be dealt with. It is easily foreseeable that someone may initially be assessed as having a potentially manageable condition and then, due to a downturn in their health/medical intervention/change of treatment etc, find that they are unable to engage in work-focussed activities. Those with mental health problems are particularly likely to have changeable conditions which are difficult to predict. For this reason, we believe that it is important that the reformed benefit makes provision for claimants to move from the "rehabilitation and support allowance" to the "disability and sickness allowance" without time-consuming or bureaucratic processes.

What are the implications of the reforms on levels of fraud and error

  26.  According to the DWP's own research, incapacity benefit has almost negligible levels of fraud and very low levels of error. The DWP commissioned a full scale review of fraud and error levels in 2001.[105] The review found only three cases involving fraud in the entire survey, making a statistically robust estimate of fraud impossible. However, the department ventured a maximum figure of 0.5%—or 0.3% of expenditure (less than £19 million).

  27.  Error was also estimated, both as a percentage of cases and as a percentage of expenditure. Error results in both overpayments and underpayments. The cost of overpayments resulting from official error was estimated at £22 million (this equates to 0.4% of expenditure). The cost of overpayments as a result of customer error was estimated at £16 million (0.3% of expenditure).[106]

  28.  On the basis of these figures, we would suggest that the reforms should focus on delivering efficient processing from a claimant's point of view rather than being driven by considerations of fraud and error.

Will the reforms address the main areas of concern with the current system?

  29.  There is currently insufficient information on the DWP's reform proposals to state whether they will address the main areas of concern in relation to the current system. However, Citizens Advice Scotland remains apprehensive that the reforms will exacerbate rather than improve our clients' experiences of claiming incapacity benefits. Our main concerns are highlighted in the previous paragraphs.

HOLDING BENEFIT

  30.  Citizens Advice Scotland is also concerned about the introduction of a "holding benefit", paid at jobseeker's allowance rate. Claimants moving out of work due to illness/disability would receive this benefit until they underwent a medical assessment—which the DWP estimates would take about 12 weeks. We are concerned, firstly, that the proposals contain no incentives/sanctions for DWP staff to ensure that a medical assessment does take place within 12 weeks. Instead, it appears that it is only the claimant who will suffer (in terms of being paid a lower rate of benefit) if there are backlogs or other administrative problems which prevent a medical assessment being carried out. We believe there are insufficient drivers to ensure that the DWP will provide a good service to their customers on this issue.

  31.  Our second concern is the rate at which the "holding benefit" will be paid. Jobseeker's allowance is currently paid at £56.20 (single person, 25 or over). The short term higher rate of incapacity benefit—paid to those whose entitlement to statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay has ended—is £68.20. Those dealt with under the proposed reformed regime would therefore be at least £12 per week worse off.

  32.  This is even more worrying because the decrease in income comes at a stage when claimants are particularly vulnerable. If they have been getting contractual sick pay, they will have just moved from receiving wages to receiving a social security benefit, with a likely significant drop in income. Most claimants will also have just had to give up work and will therefore be dealing with the psychological and physical effects of coming to terms with a serious, limiting health condition.

  33.  Citizens Advice Scotland produced a report, entitled "On the cards—the debt crisis facing Scottish CAB clients",[107] which was based on survey evidence from CAB debt clients. It highlighted the role changes of circumstance play in creating debt problems. Sick/disabled clients were over-represented among CAB debt clients, with 19% of debt clients reporting that they were sick/disabled as opposed to 6%[108] of the Scottish population generally. 33% of clients gave illness/disability as a reason for their debt situation. Our case evidence highlights the relationship between moving onto incapacity benefit and debt problems.

    An East of Scotland CAB reports of a male client who had been in receipt of incapacity benefit for about two months. He had been made redundant five months ago and had previously been in receipt of income support. He had used his redundancy payment to manage financially and had been borrowing from friends and family but was no longer able to cope with his debts. He had a bank loan for £5,000 (for which a payment protection insurance claim had been successful) and a couple of other small credit commitments. He advised the bureau that he had cancelled his rent payment the month previously. The bureau was able to advise him to prioritise rent and council tax payments and offered to take him on as a multiple debt client.

    An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client with debt problems. He was in receipt of incapacity benefit after being discharged from a rehabilitation clinic several months previously. His debts had been mounting since he left his job. He had several personal loans and a number of small consumer and utility debts. Despite requests, his creditors were unwilling to suspend payments while he was in rehabilitation and interest had continued to accrue on the unpaid accounts. He had also been unable to claim on his payment protection insurance as his problem—alcohol/drug dependency—was considered to be self inflicted. The bureau completed a financial statement with the client which showed that he had no disposable income. The client wanted to get back to work so that he could start to repay his debts, but his health was still a problem. The bureau agreed to contact his creditors to request a six month moratorium.

  34.  Given this evidence, and wider information about the financial exclusion experienced by those with long-term illness and/or disability, it seems counterproductive to reduce the level of benefits claimants receive at this vulnerable time. Citizens Advice Scotland would therefore like to see the rate of benefit paid to those who have just moved onto incapacity benefit maintained at least at current levels.

THE FUTURE ROLLOUT OF PATHWAYS TO WORK

  35.  We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences of Pathways to Work to comment in this area.

THE EXPERIENCE OF SICK AND DISABLED PEOPLE

Are people with different disabilities and health conditions, in both pilot and non-pilot area, given appropriate support by Jobcentre Plus? Is there a tendency to help those perceived as closest to the labour market?

  36.  We note that the DWP's own research[109] highlights that some incapacity benefit personal advisers are already reluctant to work with claimants who are further away from the labour market. This was put down to management attitudes to working with more challenging claimants as opposed to those who were described as "quick wins"; and whether they had the time and skills to get to the bottom of more complex cases. The same research report suggests that the introduction of job entry targets for personal advisers may pressurise them into focusing on the "quick wins" (although the report found no evidence as yet that targets had changed practice). One of the main conclusions was that placing too much weight on early job entry targets may encourage personal advisers to concentrate on those who are closer to the labour market, to the detriment of those who are not.

SUPPORT FOR SICK AND DISABLED PEOPLE TO MOVE BACK INTO WORK

Can the reformed systems support those with variable and manageable medical conditions or those who are able to work part-time? Are those with mental health difficulties adequately supported?

  37.  See paragraph 25 for our concerns in relation to the need for flexibility for those with variable health conditions.

PART-TIME WORK

  38.  We are also concerned that the current system focuses on a move into full-time work, which may act as a deterrent for those who do not feel capable of work at this level because of their health condition. The focus of "permitted work" at the higher limit is a move into full-time work, and claimants are required to have in place a job plan which states how this objective will be achieved. We would argue that claimants should be able to undertake permitted work, even at the higher limit, for an unlimited period of time to maintain contact with the labour market.

  39.  The "back to work" credit is also only available to those who take up full-time work, and it may be appropriate to consider if there are financial incentives which can be offered to those for whom part time is the only option.

  40.  The case below highlights what can happen to those who cannot continue in full-time work.

    A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose incapacity benefit had been withdrawn. She was visiting the bureau for help with debt and benefits problems. She had previously taken a job in order to meet her outgoings but she was constantly off sick. She left her job and, because she had done this, she received no benefits payments for four months. She had recently been told she could sign on for Jobseeker's Allowance and her trip to the Jobcentre was the first time she had left the house in a month. The bureau assisted the client with her debt problems and with an appeal against the decision not to award her incapacity benefit. The appeal was eventually successful.

  41.  People claiming income support (and housing benefit/council tax benefit) lose benefit pound for pound if they earn above the earnings disregard. This again acts as a disincentive to take up part time work, as there is little financial advantage. It may also cause people to lose entitlement altogether due to a fluctuation in hours worked or wages earned. Increasing the earnings disregard for income support for those who are in receipt of the disability premium and are trying out work would make part time work more financially rewarding for sick/disabled claimants.

MENTAL HEALTH

  42.  Claimants of incapacity benefits with mental health conditions already face barriers to making a successful claim. The nature of mental health conditions can make them more difficult to assess—especially during a one-off, short medical examination. Some claimants with mental health conditions may not be engaged with health services at all, which also makes it difficult to get additional evidence about their condition from appropriate professionals. Further, those with mental health conditions can also find it difficult to meet the requirements to stay on incapacity benefits, such as attending medical examinations and filling in complex forms describing their health.

  43.  The cases below highlight some of the problems those with mental health conditions face with the current system.

    A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client with mental health problems who had been in receipt of incapacity benefit. She underwent a medical where she was awarded insufficient points for the mental health descriptors to remain entitled to incapacity benefit. The bureau notes that she was suffering from severe anxiety, which was exacerbated by the stress of having to make an appeal. The client was described as ill with worry. Her appeal was successful and her entitlement to incapacity benefit was re-instated.

    An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had mental health problems. She left her job because of health problems. She claimed income support but also needed to claim incapacity benefit (National Insurance contributions only) in order to demonstrate her incapacity for work. Her incapacity benefit claim was turned down, meaning that she could not get her income support claim reinstated. The client was left with no income at all at a time when her mental health condition made her vulnerable and unable to cope with the demands of the system. She was in an area where telephone claiming for Jobcentre Plus benefits had been introduced. She should have been called back to make a further claim for incapacity benefit. However, this did not happen and, despite bureau intervention, she had not been called back over two weeks later. Her health had continued to deteriorate. The bureau was eventually able to arrange a face-to-face interview for her but she was still not asked to fill out all the relevant forms. Eventually, after a home visit from the CAB, her new claim was dealt with. However, in the meantime, the client had been left without money to purchase her prescription (and because income support was not in payment, she could not claim them free). The bureau notes that the client was extremely vulnerable and simply not able to cope with the system.

  44.  Given the existing problems, it is important that the reform proposals take into account the requirements of those with mental health conditions. The reformed benefit needs to be flexible enough to cope with changeable conditions, and there needs to be a mechanism to allow those who were initially assessed as entitled to the "rehabilitation support allowance" to move onto the "disability and sickness allowance" if their health deteriorates. Suitable support should be offered to those with mental health conditions to enable them to move closer to the labour market. Administrative systems should also be designed to take into account their specific needs. It is especially important that any conditions attached to receiving benefit - such as attending medicals or work focused interviews—allow sufficient flexibility for those with mental health conditions. There needs to be adequate opportunity for claimants with mental health conditions to be able to demonstrate reasonable cause for non-attendance.

INVOLVEMENT OF HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS

  45.  We do not have evidence relevant to this heading.

JOBCENTRE PLUS RESOURCES

Is Jobcentre Plus sufficiently resources to deliver the Pathways pilots, both in terms of staffing and finances? Are they equipped to deal with a reform programme for incapacity benefit?

  46.  As described in paragraph 8 and paragraph 36, the DWP's own evaluation of the Pathways to Work initiative suggests that the role of an incapacity benefit personal adviser is complex and requires that sufficient time is available to devote to moving individual claimants forward. There are already concerns that some personal advisers may be carrying case loads which are too large to offer sufficiently personalised support to all claimants. As stated above, Citizens Advice Scotland believes that the success of Pathways to Work is due to its ability to provide a high degree of flexible and personalised support. We are therefore concerned that a commitment to provide a similar level of resources underlies any further role out of the Pathways to Work pilot. If the reform programme for incapacity benefits is to provide genuine support for claimants to move into work, then it is important that resourcing here is also adequate.

EXISTING EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVES

  47.  We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences in this area to comment.

THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE AND VOLUNTARY SECTORS

  48.  We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences in this area to comment.

LOCAL LABOUR MARKETS

What type of jobs are participants of Pathways moving into? Are they receiving appropriate in-work support to enhance job retention?

Are local labour markets able to provide the jobs needed?

What is the experience of employers?

  49.  Citizens Advice Scotland does not have clear evidence to comment on the sorts of jobs participants in Pathways to Work pilots are moving into. However, we believe that further research in this area is vital. In order to address social and financial exclusion issues for people who are sick/disabled, it is important that the jobs provided are sustainable. Participants need to be financially better off in the long-term—not just for the period that any "back to work bonus" is payable. The jobs available also need to be of sufficient quality, and to offer sufficient in-work support, to break any cycle of "low pay, no pay" which may exacerbate exclusion in the long-term, especially for those who also have health problems.



96   Riding the benefits roller coaster-CAB clients' experiences of claiming sickness and disability benefits, Citizens Advice Scotland, December 2003. The report is available from http://www.cas.org.uk/PageAccess.aspx?PageId=613 or by request to Citizens Advice Scotland. Back

97   Shaping the incapacity benefit reforms-a response from Citizens Advice Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland, June 2005. This response is available from http://www.cas.org.uk/PageAccess.aspx?PageId=2081 or by request to Citizens Advice Scotland. Back

98   Incapacity benefit reforms: personal adviser roles and practices stage two, DWP, 2005, research report No 278. Back

99   Incapacity benefit reforms pilot: findings from a longitudinal panel of clients, DWP, 2005, research report No 259. Back

100   Op cit No 3. Back

101   Ibid. Back

102   Op cit No 4. Back

103   Quarterly Appeals Service statistics: December 2004, DWP, 2005. Back

104   Attached as an appendix to this response. Back

105   Fraud and Error in relation to Incapacity Benefit: The Results of the Benefit Review of Incapacity Benefit, DWP, 2001. Back

106   All these figures represent an average and are based on a 95% confidence interval. Back

107   Cathy Sharp, On the cards-the debt crisis facing Scottish CAB clients, Citizens Advice Scotland, January 2004. The full report is available from http://www.cas.org.uk/PageAccess.aspx?PageId=550 or by request to Citizens Advice Scotland. Back

108   Figure taken from the Scottish Household Survey 2001-02. Back

109   Op cit no 3. Back


 
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