Proposals to reform the appeals process risk destitution for sick and disabled people
A letter from my local ME support group to our MPs on another gaping hole in the safety net:
Re: government proposals on the mandatory reconsideration before appeal provision, Welfare Reform Act 2012
We would like to draw your attention to aspects of the government’s proposals to reform the appeals process which may put very sick and disabled people at further risk of hardship and despair.
The [ ] ME Support Group is a self-help group for people suffering from ME/CFS run by its members. We have members within your constituency. The introduction of the flawed Work Capability Assessment for ESA claims has had a devastating impact on our members, with many incorrect “fit to work” decisions overturned on appeal.[i] Now the government is proposing to introduce a mandatory reconsideration by the DWP before an appeal to the tribunal can be lodged. And in doing so they propose to cut payments of ESA to those who challenge a “fit to work” decision.
Currently claimants who challenge a decision that they are fit to work are paid employment and support allowance (ESA) at the “assessment rate” pending their appeal tribunal. But in its recent response to a public consultation the government is considering stopping these payments during the mandatory reconsideration period. Instead claimants with no other income will be forced to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance while they await the DWP’s reconsideration. Furthermore, the government refuses to impose a statutory time limit on the DWP reconsideration phase.
Several of our members who have had a “fit to work” decision overturned on appeal were too disabled by illness to meet the conditions for obtaining jobseeker’s allowance, ie travelling to the Jobcentre regularly and attend a signing on interview. Some would therefore be left without income for food or heating for an indefinite period while they awaited reconsideration under the proposed new system.
As is well known, the rate of success at appeal with regard to ESA is high. Some of our members have even scored zero points at the WCA but qualified for the Support Group at tribunal. Claimants contesting DWP decisions are therefore not merely borderline cases. They are sometimes too severely impaired to leave their home on a regular or predictable basis.
We would like to urge ministers to consider the details of these proposals more carefully to avoid causing potential destitution to vulnerable people who may have been incorrectly assessed.
For the system to work fairly, there should be a time limit on reconsiderations; and people requesting a reconsideration should be paid at the assessment rate of ESA on production of a doctor's note while the reconsideration takes place.
Trustee, [ ] ME Support Group