Sheila Gilmore MP today welcomed a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which she is a member – that calls on the Government to pay sick and disabled people benefits while they appeal against incorrect ‘Fit for Work’ decisions.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides support for people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. Entitlement is determined by the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Previously claimants who were declared ‘Fit for Work’ and wished to challenge their decision were paid ESA at a reduced rate throughout the appeal process. However since October 2013 claimants have had to submit an informal appeal – known as a mandatory reconsideration – to a DWP civil servant, and only if they are still refused benefit can they take their case to a judge.
During mandatory reconsideration, a claimant’s only option is to claim Jobseekers Allowance, which entails applying for jobs and attending an interview. As a result many sick and disabled people have been refused JSA or sanctioned, leaving them stuck between benefits and without any income. The DWP Committee have today called on the Government to pay claimants ESA during the mandatory reconsideration process.
In addition current statistics show that, since it replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008, one in ten ESA claimants who are declared ‘Fit for Work’ successfully appeal this decision and are awarded ESA. However it emerged last year that the proportion of incorrect decisions could be a lot higher, as figures on the outcomes of mandatory reconsiderations were not being published. The DWP Committee have today called on Ministers to publish these statistics.
Sheila Gilmore said:
I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.
Since last year people in this position have been forced to claim Jobseekers Allowance when they initially challenge an incorrect decision. Many are refused or quickly sanctioned, leaving them stuck between benefits for periods of up to ten weeks.
Ministers should implement the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recommendation that claimants are paid ESA throughout the application process. This shouldn’t cost the Government any money, unless DWP are already factoring in sick and disabled people being unable to claim JSA.
Until recently we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but since it emerged that the Government were withholding key figures, the reality could be much worse. Again the Government should do as the Select Committee says, and publish this data without delay.
Notes to Editors
- The key paragraph of the Committee’s report reads: ‘However, DWP needs to set a reasonable timescale for the MR process, rather than this being left open-ended. The current illogical arrangement whereby claimants seeking MR are required to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) instead of ESA should be abolished. Official statistics showing the impact of MR on the number of appeals and on outcomes for claimants should be published as a matter of urgency.’
- Sheila Gilmore led a debate on mandatory reconsideration statistics in the House of Commons on 9 April 2014 where she summarised the issue as follows: ‘I acknowledge this is quite a hard argument to follow so let’s say, hypothetically, 100 people claim ESA. We are initially told that 50 are awarded benefit and 50 are declared Fit for Work. We are then told that 25 of this latter group successfully appeal their decision, so we can say that the assessment process is getting one in four decisions wrong. What if we then found out that 25 of the 50 who were initially awarded ESA only got benefit following an informal appeal to a civil servant? We would have to say that the assessment process was getting one in two decisions wrong – a level of performance significantly worse than previously thought.’
- For more information Sheila Gilmore maintains dedicated pages on mandatory reconsiderations and reconsideration statistics on her website.