Memorandum submitted by Citizens Advice
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
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?
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.
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
timewhen 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
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.
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
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.
||As a % of social
|2004-05||As a % of social|
|Sickness benefits enquiries||13,776
|Disability benefits enquiries||23,559
|Income support enquiries*||15,767
|Total social security benefit enquiries
* 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
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"
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
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.
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.
This is reflected in claimants' views too, with claimants generally
seeing personal advisers as helpful, supportive and "not
Workload issuesThere 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.
SanctionsThe 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.
Improved optionsResearch 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.
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?
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
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
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
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",
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
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.
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
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 contributionsOur
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.
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"
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
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
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
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. 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).
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
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.
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 assessmentwhich
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 benefitpaid to those whose entitlement
to statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay has endedis
£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 cardsthe debt crisis facing Scottish CAB clients",
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%
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
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 problemalcohol/drug
dependencywas 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.
35. We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences
of Pathways to Work to comment in this area.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 assessespecially 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
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 interviewsallow
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
45. We do not have evidence relevant to this heading.
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.
47. We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences
in this area to comment.
48. We do not have sufficient evidence of client experiences
in this area to comment.
What type of jobs are participants of Pathways moving into?
Are they receiving appropriate in-work support to enhance job
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-termnot 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.
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
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
Incapacity benefit reforms: personal adviser roles and practices
stage two, DWP, 2005, research report No 278. Back
Incapacity benefit reforms pilot: findings from a longitudinal
panel of clients, DWP, 2005, research report No 259. Back
Op cit No 3. Back
Op cit No 4. Back
Quarterly Appeals Service statistics: December 2004, DWP, 2005. Back
Attached as an appendix to this response. Back
Fraud and Error in relation to Incapacity Benefit: The Results
of the Benefit Review of Incapacity Benefit, DWP, 2001. Back
All these figures represent an average and are based on a 95%
confidence interval. Back
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
Figure taken from the Scottish Household Survey 2001-02. Back
Op cit no 3. Back