The DWP have laid a vicious benefit trap which will mean severely sick and disabled people will have no legal entitlement to benefit at all if they choose to appeal an assessment by the notorious IT company Atos.
Atos carry out the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the test for the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance. This crude computer based test has been use to strip benefits from hundreds of thousands of people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.
From October this year claimants will not be able to appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision until they have first requested a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ by a DWP decision maker. Only if the claimant disagrees with this decision will they be able to take an appeal to a benefit tribunal. This process is likely to take months.
A recent response to an FOI request (PDF) confirms that claimants will not be able to claim ESA whilst waiting for this process to be completed. The DWP say that claimants will instead have the: “option of applying for alternative benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance, however they must meet the conditions of entitlement”.
One of the key conditions of entitlement for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – the benefit for those unemployed not unwell – is that the claimants is able to work.
This will mean that those appealing an ESA decision and claiming Jobseekers Allowance will be placed in a potentially fraudulent position. They will be appealing an ESA decision based on the fact they do not believe themselves able to work, and will be claiming JSA based on a claim that they are able to work.
Already many claimants have been left in a benefit limbo, after Atos have declare them ‘fit for work’ but Jobcentre staff do not believe this to be the case. All those on JSA must be actively seeking work, ready to start work immediately and can be sent onto four weeks workfare at any point in their claim. For many of those who have had ESA stopped, this is an impossibility. JSA claimants can have benefits stopped completely, for up to three years in some cases, if they fail to complete jobseeking activity or workfare.
After these changes to appeals come into effect, any claimants who disagrees with a decision made by Atos is likely to be forced to go without any benefit at all whilst ‘reconsiderations’ of their benefits take place. These people are not just already amongst the poorest in the country, but those with cancer, MS or other life threatening conditions.
This appears to be a vindictive attempt to bring down the number of successful appeals against sickness benefit decisions which have been a continual embarrassment to both the current and the previous Labour governments.
The new message from the DWP seems to be appeal if you want, but don’t expect to eat or heat your homes whilst you are waiting. The end of result of these changes will no doubt be less appeals. The price of that will be more people dying at the hands of this callous process, which increasingly seems precision-engineered to drive sick and disabled people into destitution.
UPDATE 13/6/13: Clarification, the DWP say that claimants ‘may’ be paid at the assessment rate once the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ has taken place if they pursue an appeal. There is no time limit on how long this process can take and this depends on whether they are able to provide medical evidence to the Department.
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