Half of GP surgeries are charging sick and disabled benefit claimants who request medical evidence to support a benefit appeal, a survey by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has found.
The CAB say that this demonstrates the ‘obstacles’ people face when appealing against Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ‘fit for work’ decisions, as well as the financial difficulties experienced by sick and disabled benefit claimants in accessing their medical records.
According to the results of the survey, 50% of GP surgeries said that they charged benefit claimants for medical evidence and 61% of those said they asked their patients to pay between £10 and £50.
Shockingly, 5% said that they asked patients to pay between £50.01 and £100, while 2% charged even more.
26% of GP surgeries who asked benefit claimants to pay for medical evidence admitted that they only asked ‘some patients’.
14% of GP surgeries surveyed by the CAB said that they only provide medical evidence to ‘some’ groups of patients, while 15% admitted that they turn down ALL requests from sick and disabled benefit claimants for medical evidence.
Among the reasons given for refusing to provide medical evidence for ESA appeals were ‘a lack of time and that they did not feel it was their job to do so’.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“The Work Capability system is not fit for work. The odds are stacked against sick and disabled people, who are paying a heavy health, emotional and financial price for ministers’ failure to get support right.
“People who turn to the state for help with illness have every right to expect that support will be there for them. Unfortunately far too many people face a double-edged sword of a poor assessment and a charge to appeal against it. Ministers need to urgently address this totally misguided process where people can be judged fit for work without any medical evidence to back up that decision.
“Too often GPs charge people to access basic medical evidence. When sickness or disability limits someone’s ability to go out and work, being asked for money to help lodge an appeal can be a serious blow. Citizens Advice works closely with medical professionals to try to ensure people can get fair treatment and strong support. If doctors are unable to provide help due to a lack of time or resources then it is Government’s responsibility to ensure the necessary support is made available.
“The WCA process is putting pressure on GPs, charities and most importantly, ordinary people in need of a helping hand. The buck stops with ministers, who need to urgently fix this system.”
Citizens Advice say that ESA and the WCA are now the ‘single biggest issue’ in their advice centres. The charity claim that in the past year they have dealt with nearly half a million issues related to ESA and a total of 1.5 million requests for help and support since 2008.
The CAB surveyed 173 GP surgeries as part of their Fit For Work campaign, which is demanding urgent reform to the ESA Work Capability Assessment process to ensure that sick and disabled benefit claimants ‘get fair treatment and strong support’.