4 July 2012 9:32PM
Whilst I warmly welcome the recognition given to the pressure welfare benefit specialists are under at the CAB in this excellent article by Amelia Gentlemen of the Guardian and also by the organisation’s CEO Gillian Guy, I think we should be clear that the problem caused by ESA assessments is really only the start of what’s to come.
The purported £50 million a year cost of these appeals is a massive understatement of the true cost to the public purse.
The tribunal president in his annual report produced earlier this year predicted that by 2015 appellants will be bringing 644,000 benefit appeals a year.
The number of social security benefit appeals has sky rocketed from what we were seeing back in 2008. If the president’s predicted figures transpire to be correct; for the period from 2010 to 2015 the total number of all benefit appeals will have escalated to an almighty 2.5 million.
The cost of these appeal is being wildly misquoted, my research shows the combined DWP & HMCTS cost to be £429.66 per hearing; the total cost is absolutely phenomenal and being played down by the Government.
The DWP’s figure for an Employment and Support Allowance / Incapacity Benefit Interview alone is put at £109 (2009/10). It stands to reason that if the cost of a one to one interview at the job centre costs over a £100 the cost of a full tribunal appeal hearing will be much greater.
Little is known about how hard working CAB and law centres are totally reliant on legal aid funding for the provision of specialist advice, it is absurd that we face the loss of this vital funding with effect from April of next year. This is when the recent legal aid reforms take full effect and effectively abolish specialist help for all the people who turn to us for specialist help in what are often very complex and time consuming appeal cases in the first – tier tribunals.
Nearly 50% of our caseload is taken up with client after client coming in for help with their ESA appeals. Our results speak for themselves – we win around 80% of our cases, how you can you argue with results like these?
Our success rates have to tell you something about an endemic failure on the part of the DWP to achieve satisfactory standards of decision-making in their adjudication of ESA claims. The national success rate of 40% would I suspect be much greater if more of our clients were able to access help from fully trained welfare benefit specialists.
Ironically the need for benefit specialists was well recognised by David Cameron when addressing the National Autistic Society back in July 2009 when he compared applying for disability benefits as complicated as ‘applying for a mortgage’.
If Mr Cameron thinks applying for these benefits is complex he should try appealing for them! Our office is crammed full of files awaiting preparation of well agued legal appeal submissions. It can take a fair number of hours to put together a case and becomes particularly difficult in say a case where the client has a complex mental health condition.
What government just doesn’t get is how the change from Incapacity Benefit over to Employment & Support Allowance is a completely different assessment. In the vast majority of cases we are trying to advance an argument on behalf of our client to the Tribunal that our client is entitled to support via Government’s ‘flagship’ WORK programme.
The reality is out of all the cases we win very few clients go on to be attached to the WORK programme. The number of long term incapacitated being attached to the programme is shamefully low.
The reality is that no sooner has a client’s appeal been upheld that they then find themselves being reassessed again, they just get stuck in a never ending revolving cycle which denies them access to the help they need.
If government is serious in its intention to help people with limitation into work then it has to do better than hide behind overly positive statistics. The system is so ludicrous that of those clients who lose their appeal they end up back on ESA very shortly afterwards; the Jobcentre all too soon recognises how they can’t meet the labour market conditions!
But all of this will be a drop in ocean as the DWP moves towards implementation of Universal Credit where millions of claimants will see themselves overly stressed in a sea of utter confusion. I’m sure the same will apply to the influx of appeals we expect to see when Personal Independence Payment replaces Disability Living Allowance.
The scope for official error is immense; yet Government assures us all that we will see ‘simplification’ of the benefits system. It’s an admirable aim but I fear it will take light years to achieve.
The huge array of newly drafted legislation tells me what’s around the corner, this will be far from simple as mistake after mistake is commissioned by the greatest serial litigator of them all; our good old friends ‘The Secretary of State’.
Please let’s stop this farcical pretence that the CAB and other advice organisations can cope without sufficient funding for the chaos which is all too rapidly bearing down upon us.
We need to stop pretending that committed volunteer generalist advisers can cope with the resultant complexity; specialist appeal work is a completely different ball game. Government needs to put its hand in its pocket, see sense and fund us properly for the work we do at a ridiculously cheap fixed fee of just £150 a case; it’s exceptional value for money.”
The point is that Government would sooner there were NO Citizens Advice Bureaux at all, Nick D ~ All the better to rob sick and/or disabled people of the benefits to which they are entitled in a just and civilised society, governed by the Rule of Law!
We have descended into a State where the Government has gone on a lawless rampage against millions of its own people, some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in our society, in a policy of ‘passive euthanasia’ for those who fall by the wayside and are not able to keep up. The safety net has been removed.
The only way to ‘fix’ the system now is to literally overthrow the ‘Government’!
The solution is political, not bureaucratic.
The sooner we all agree on this and withdraw, en masse, our consent to be misgoverned by this government of gangsters, the sooner things will improve.
Until then, there is nothing but injustice, blood, sweat, tears and misery to look forward to.
Now is the time for EVERYONE who is not with this government to pull together to bring it down by any and all means, excluding violence, at our disposal.
~ Black Triangle
Advice centres are struggling to cope with a surge in requests for help because of rising problems claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), the new sickness and disability benefit, according to Citizens Advice, which responded to 97,000 requests for support on this issue alone in the first three months of 2012.
The charity said its “already overstretched service” had been put under severe pressure by the problems connected with ESA, and the controversial computer-led fitness test, the work capability assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for the benefit.
Problems connected with ESA were the fastest-growing area of need among people who consulted a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in the first quarter of this year, rising by 71% on the same quarter last year. There was an 82% rise in requests for help in mounting an appeal against a decision not to award the benefit. Around 38% of appeals against a refusal of the benefit are currently being overturned in the claimant’s favour.
The rise is explained in part by the fact that last April, all former incapacity benefit claimants began to be reassessed for the benefit, which was introduced for new claimants in 2008; the increase in demand for help will be linked to claimants’ lack of familiarity with the new process. Overall requests for help with benefit claims rose by 6% in that period, making this the largest part of the charity’s work, making up 34% of all advice given by CAB.
The charity warned that its advisers were already struggling to cope with the huge rise in applications for support, and would find it extremely difficult to handle a further surge in requests for help next year when fundamental changes to the welfare system arrive with the introduction of Universal Credit.
Gillian Guy, CAB chief executive, said: “This is a very worrying trend. ESA is giving rise to a far higher volume of appeals than any other benefit. As well as the huge additional stress and hardship this causes our clients, it also puts severe pressure on our already overstretched service. Our specialist advisers in bureaux are being overwhelmed by the volume of these complex and time-consuming appeals.
“Things are likely to get even worse when sweeping legal aid cuts come into force next spring. These will have a devastating impact on our capacity to provide specialist welfare benefits advice and casework – just as the biggest shake-up in the benefits system since the welfare state came into being begins to get underway.”
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, said: “Given the comparison of the two periods, aA rise in contacts to the CAB is not surprising when you consider that along with all the new ESA claimants, we are reassessing 1.5 million people over three years.
“We are determined to ensure the process is fit for purpose, which is why we are implementing all the recommendations made by our independent reviewer to make it better and fairer.”
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Contact information for those seeking help and advice on welfare issues can be found here.
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