Only 19% of sick and disabled people have received an outcome on their sickness benefit claims they made last year, damning new figures reveal.
Government figures released today show that 40% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims between October 2013 and December 2013 were still undergoing assessment – no final decision has yet been made.
Despite signs of improvement, by March 2014 around a third of ESA claims (33%) were still in progress. The DWP said “additional cases from any original caseload would be cleared in subsequent periods”.
Figures also show that 41% of claimants decided to close their claim rather than be forced to attend stressful and degrading face to face assessments.
The Department for Work and Pensions says the delay in final decisions is due to changes in the decision-making process. Under changes introduced to the benefits appeal process in October 2013, sick and disabled people who disagree with a decision must first ask the DWP to look at the decision again – before they can apply to appeal to a social security tribunal. The figures exclude decisions made after tribunal appeals.
Of the 19% who had received a final outcome on their claim for ESA 73% were entitled to the benefit while only 27% were found ‘fit for work’. The number of people entitled to the benefit has risen sharply from a low of 35% in January to March 2009.
Of those who received a favourable outcome on their claim 15% were placed in Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and 58% were placed in the Support Group. Those in the WRAG are not ready to return to work but may be at some point in the future. The Support Group is for sick and disabled people who are unlikely to be able to return to work in the foreseeable future.
The DWP say that “cases where decisions are made earlier tend to be more likely to be entitled to ESA than not”.
In related news, the new Minister for Disabled People has admitted that the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) “is not in good shape”.
Despite a pledge to speed up the claims process Mark Harper admitted that disabled people will still face a wait of up to six months before they receive vital benefit cash.
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, asked: “Do you think that’s an acceptable length of time for someone who has developed a disability, and suddenly has a lot of associated costs?”
In response Mark Harper said: “I’d like it to be faster – but there’s no point getting ahead of ourselves. It’s moving in the right direction”.
The government has blamed the delays on private contractors Atos and Capita. However, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams suggested the delays were due to the DWP sacking 1,000 workers – including 600 benefit assessors. Noel Shanahan, director general of operations at the DWP, said they were bringing in additional staff to help deal with the delays and that the sacked workers “would have been at the wrong grade”.
Atos recently announced that they would be withdrawing from a £500 million a year contract to deliver Work Capability Assessments for ESA when that contract ends in 2015. The DWP has yet to announce a replacement.