Written evidence submitted by Lynn
Wyatt-Buchan (West Oxfordshire Citizens Advice Bureau)|
Firstly, please let me say that in the main
I support the welfare reform and the theory behind the proposed
changes. I do recognise the need for Government to save money
but feel that short-term spends to ensure this process is
smooth will inevitably shorten the process, thus saving more money
long term (arguably - it is not an exact science).
Department's communications to customers going through the assessment
and whether the information, guidance and advice provided by the
Department and Jobcentre Plus is effective in supporting customers
through the process.
Clients who have been in receipt of benefit for
a number of years AND who have limited understanding through mental
capability will with disregard the letters sent OR worry
endlessly. Key groups in receipt of Incapacity Benefit who have
recognised mental health issues such as anxiety/depression/learning
difficulties etc could, arguably be assisted with personalised
(one-to-one or suitable group presentation communication).
An expensive option, but maybe one that could be achieved
through volunteer organisations set-up for this sole purpose.
It maybe that the same individual mentors the client through the
whole process (though arguably training and therefore further
expense) may be required.
Work Capability Assessment including: the assessment criteria;
the service provided by Atos staff; the suitability of assessment
centres; and customers' overall experience of the process.
It has been proven (and backed up by the independent
review - Outcomes date Nov 2010) that the present Work Capability
Assessment procedure is inadequate; non reflective of clients
true issues; and often found to be completely untrue when evaluated
for the purpose of appeal. A key weakness being that of Atos staff
and as a result the overall experience by a client who has been
through the assessment. Atos professionals are felt to be removed,
ill-educated and have a pre-disposed objective; to fail clients
irrelevant of what issues present themselves or the evidence in
hand. For physically disabled clients the process is a huge challenge
on so many levels. The main one being is the lack of consideration
to the variable nature of pain and the impact of repetition
etc. For clients with mental health issues and learning disabilities
the procedure is overwhelming and for many extremely distressingprofounded
by the zero score at the end of it.
decision-making process and how it could be improved to ensure
that customers are confident that the outcome of their assessment
is a fair and transparent reflection of their capacity for work.
There needs to be open lines of communication
at every step of this process. Atos/Decision Makers/The Tribunal
do not communicate adequately if at all. There is no transparent
reflection because the questionnaire scoring does not reflect
the true picture (always) of the issues presented by a client.
Improvements may include better training and communication between
the Government Assessor and the client's GP and a more involved
recognition of the views of medical/professionals that have a
history of involved with the client. At the moment, any evidence
is disregarded and a client can be found fit for work after full
support from medical consultants superior to that of the Atos
assessor. There is a need for mentors for those who have recognised
mental health issues. A mentor to not only ensure that the clients
welfare is preserved but also that a fair picture is taken by Atos
and communicated effectively to the decision maker and so forth.
appeals process, including the time taken for the appeals process
to be completed; and whether customers who decide to appeal the
outcome of their assessment have all the necessary guidance, information
and advice to support them through the process.
The appeals process is timely costly and avoidable
in main cases if a full picture is taken and medical evidence
taken in confidence from professionals who know the client well.
The appeal process is overwhelming for clients who genuinely
do have the issues that mean that they are eligible for the benefits.
I do realise that the appeal successfully works to disencourage disingenuous
clients - but there needs to be a balance. There is a real worry
that with a present 6,000 per week caseload that the appeals services
will not manage the influx of cases that are bound to ensue through
the migration from IB to ESA. I do see many positives in
the new WCA but with the weakness at Atos level there
will inevitably be many clients that must unnecessarily
go through the appeals process. The information put forward to
clients needs, in many cases, to be followed up by independent
professional people so that the content is fully understood. The
telephone calls that have been taking place have muddled clients
and actually, in some cases, been seen to encourage them to apply
for JSA while on the line after misguidance by the telephone
adviser - whether intentional or not - this is a serious concern
with many possible negative connotations. Funding for CAB's
to engage with clients throughout the migration process could
outcome of the migration process and the different paths taken
by the various client groups: those moved to Jobseeker's Allowance,
including the support provided to find work and the impact of
the labour market on employment prospects; those found fit for
work who may be entitled to no further benefits; those placed
in the Work Related Activity Group of the ESA, including the likely
impact of the Department's decision to time-limit contribution-based
ESA to a year; and those placed in the Support Group.
There are many positives to this proposal. I do
see that the welfare state is for families/individuals who
are facing hardship and there must be some methods of limiting
funds going where it is not needed for life's necessities.
This will take time for people to adjust to and with early Financial
Capability intervention to minimise damage to household budgets
could be manageable. But it needs, especially in the early stages,
needs to be managed with support networks in place. £420
les per calendar month, per household can impact hugely of standard
of living, especially in the current economic climate. While the
principle behind this part of the reform is sound, care will need
to be taken.
time-scale for the national roll-out for the migration process,
including the Department's capacity to introduce changes identified
as necessary in the Aberdeen and Burnley trials.
With present appeals taking up to a year
from lodging to outcome, it is very optimistic to assume that
the migration is achievable within four years. It will be managed
by date of reviews and therefore numbers involved in the process
staggered, there are still adequate numbers to create huge operational
issues. If the WCA is better, this would assume that Atos
is completely sorted out AND ALL of the recommendations promised
by the DWP to be implemented following the review (outcomes
Nov 2010), and realistic numbers of appeals (in number of clients)
are lodged it is still difficult to realistically envisage that
the migration will be completed when there is already a massive
backlog of unresolved cases awaiting outcomes. Improve the system
- improve the training and all levels of the process - provided
funding to quality organisations with well trained individuals
to support clients (who need it) through the process and the time-scale
will be reduced, but four-years?