Written evidence submitted by Middlesbrough
Council Welfare Rights Group |
This response to the inquiry is primarily from a
Welfare Rights perspective and should be regarded as such; our
main concern in drafting this document has been to highlight the
effect that the changes will have to our clients and the people
It is within the remit of the Welfare Rights Unit
to advise, help and represent Middlesbrough residents at all stages
in the process of claiming welfare benefits from initial form
filling to appeals to the lower and upper tribunals.
The most recent figures from the DWP show 8000 Middlesbrough
residents in receipt of Incapacity Benefit.
These claimants fall into three groups:
who have claimed IB/Invalidity Benefit due to ill health and are
paid contribution based benefit (not means tested).
receiving Income support due to incapacity (means tested).
who have been disabled since childhood and are paid IB/Invalidity
Benefit due to incapacity in youth at the same rate as those on
Each set then falls into two sub groups:
We have defined the sub groups because in particular
the Social Care Users claims/reassessment will have an impact
on Social Care.
Any claimant being migrated over to ESA will have
been on an incapacity related benefit for a minimum of three years.
For a significant number of claimants this will be more than five
or even 10 years.
Anyone claiming since October 2008; will have claimed
ESA. The only exception will be a small number of claimants who
would have reclaimed IB following a period in work their incapacity
being linked back to their previous claim.
A number of claimants will be reaching state retirement
age within the three years that migration is anticipated to take
and some people will have returned to work, we would estimate
that between 2,000 and 2,500 claimants will be reassessed a year.
This begs the question; who will help all these people
if they need it?
Our organisation currently is working to capacity
and advises 12 people a day on the telephone (max 2,964 per year)
and has eight outreach appointments a day (max 1,976) to help
people fill out forms etc. There are other providers such as Citizens
Advice Bureau but they are also working to capacity and have had
to cut staff numbers due to cuts in funding. Legal Aid does not
cover costs for form filling or appeal representation and it has
been proposed that Welfare Benefits be taken out of the scope
of Legal Aid.
The pilot studies carried out by the DWP showed that
30% of people who were reassessed failed to reach the threshold
for ESA. The pilot study was carried out using the old work capability
assessment. The new assessment criteria have a reduced number
of criteria from which claimants can achieve the relevant points.
The level of disability that has to be demonstrated to achieve
points has also been increased. We therefore feel that the number
of claimants who fail to qualify for ESA will be significantly
higher than the 30% in the pilots.
When the migration of claimants from IB to ESA was
mooted and the legislation passed it was for a transition from
IB to ESA. Now however the goal posts have changed and it is proposed
that claimants on contribution based ESA will only receive the
benefit for a year if they are placed in the work related activity
We are concerned that the migration of IB claimants
to ESA constitutes retrospective legislation as does the intention
to limit the amount of time that existing claimants will be entitled.
Statistically disabled people remain out of work
for longer than those that are able bodied, those that have been
out of work for more than two years are statistically unlikely
to find work unless they receive a substantial amount of help.
What will happen to the claimants who are found fit
for work but do not qualify for means tested benefits such as
JSA or Pension Credit? There is a risk that their households will
become low-income households their spouse's salary or their ill
health pension being the only income coming into the household.
Pensions paid due to ill health retirement were historically low
due to the fact that they would be topped up by incapacity benefits.
These families may have significant problems meeting their housing
costs particularly if they have a mortgage on their property.
Historically someone retiring early would be advised
to take a larger lump sum and smaller weekly payment. This was
prudent financial planning if taking ill health retirement. The
reduced weekly payment also reduces the tax burden on the individual
if they were to re-enter employment.
Someone in work can make adjustments and provision
for ill health; these claimants who have been ill health retired
for some time cannot do this.
There has been very little information put into general
circulation with regards to the changes and the implication they
hold for this group of claimants. This group are also the least
likely to have accessed services such as ours.
This group are also the most likely to be dissatisfied
with the process. They see the IB as being a right due to their
having worked and paid National Insurance Contributions. The writer
has had numerous clients she has advised on appeals due to not
reaching the threshold of the Personal Capability Assessment.
They have felt very let down that benefit was withdrawn because
they felt that NI was a type of insurance against being unable
to work due to ill health "private insurance could not be
stopped like this".
Claimants receiving Income Support (IS) because of
incapacity for work will not suffer the same financial consequences
if found capable of work, JSA means tested is paid at the same
rate as IS. We are however concerned that they will struggle to
comply with the regime of JSA.
Claimants entitled to incapacity in youth are often
amongst the most disabled in society, they are also more likely
to be clients of social care. They are unlikely to have had regular
reassessments of their IB, it will have been reviewed on an occasional
basis or not at all.
Some will have the local authority as their appointee
and as such the migration process will have an associated cost
implication and be time consuming to local authority staff.
Some will have parents or relatives as appointee
who may not appreciate the importance of the ESA50 when it arrives.
We have already had cases where clients have come
to us when ESA has been stopped due to appointees not appreciating
the importance of the client attending the medical. The length
of time (up to 12 weeks) that it takes for another medical to
be arranged can cause considerable financial problems. We have
seen clients in supported living schemes go into considerable
arrears with their housing costs.
We are unable to comment on the department's communications
because we know that they have been updated and we have not seen
the final copies. Also a significant amount of communication is
proposed by telephone.
From experience with the current ESA regime we would
say that the DWP and Atos need to look at the previous medicals
and information held on file. They cannot rely on the information
in the ESA50, people with learning difficulties or mental health
problems often adopt a coping strategy where they say everything
is OK. They also do not list all of their problems.
The writer was recently successful at appeal for
a service user with a learning difficulty. The ESA50 had been
sent to her address and filled out by a friend "because the
service user could not read and write". The friend who also
had a slight learning difficulty completed the ESA50 in barely
legible English and went to the medical with her friend. The client
did not want to bother her social worker so did not ask for help.
The assessment process does not routinely involve requesting information
from GP's or Social Workers, it is purely based on the ESA50 and
the medical assessment. At assessment the interview was very quick
and our client told the EMP they could do everything and did not
have any problems. The DWP did not change the decision on review.
On the morning of the appeal we received a phone call to say that
we did not need to attend as the tribunal had decided to make
the award based on the papers.
The writer has had similar experiences with clients
who have mental health problems; again they adopt a coping strategy
of telling the EMP that everything is OK. Their appeals are successful
but at the cost of considerable distress and financial hardship
to the client. One client became so stressed by the appeals process
and the thought of going to appeal that her incidences of self-harm
increased. We have submitted additional medical evidence of such
quality that revisions of the secretary of states decision should
have been made prior to the appeal date, such as statements from
Healthcare Professionals that the claimant poses a significant
risk of harm to the people around them, that there condition is
so bad that it would pose a serious risk to there health if they
were to be found fit for work.
We have also had cases where even though Examining
Medical Practitioner was given details of all the medication that
the claimant was on they failed to identify all of the medical
conditions that the claimant was suffering from. Most significantly
a highly depressed claimant who was taking a significant cocktail
of anti viral medication was not identified as being HIV positive.
Something that the claimant was too embarrassed to tell her.
For a case to get as far as an Appeal Tribunal carries
with it a significant cost to the Tribunals Service and to organisations
such as us. This could be avoided if the original decision was
made based on adequate and relevant medical evidence. A simple
Examining Medical Practitioners report based on a 45 minute interview
is often not enough.
Clients that have been reassessed for ESA have been
shocked that their previous medicals have not been made available
to the EMP and are not used in the decision making process.
The biggest improvement to the decision making process
would be to routinely write to the medics and social care staff
detailed on the ESA50. This would have a cost implication but
would lead to savings by the reduction in appeals and healthcare
cost due to the trauma caused by wrong decisions.
The DWP appeals sections and Tribunals Service is
currently overloaded with appeals particularly for ESA. Services
such as our own are also at capacity with appeals. Disallowances
due to the migration of claimants from IB can only make this situation
worse. Substantial funding will be needed to ensure that the waiting
time for appeals does not go beyond the year that we are waiting
for some of our appeals. If funding for the Tribunals Service
was increased and their capacity increased, consideration also
needs to be given to funding for representation. The people who
are to be subject to this migration are amongst some of the most
disadvantaged in society.
We are also concerned that the DWP may be actively
discouraging people from appealing or not telling claimant when
they speak to them on the phone. The DWP should welcome appeals
and deal with them expediently and fairly.
The Harrington Review made a number of recommendations
and we are concerned that these are not being implemented. The
DWP committed to a two-year process and yet the new Work Capability
Assessment is being implemented without the two-year review that
was built into the implementing legislation that brought about
Employment and Support Allowance.
This whole process when considered in conjunction
with the massive changes that are proposed to the entire benefits
system and process is going to overwhelm both claimants and advise