The Department for Work and Pensions has today announced a number of changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Work Capability Assessments (WCA).
Some of those changes are outlined below:
“Today we are announcing a package of ESA measures to improve further the support we offer disabled people and people with health conditions.
“In early 2015 we are introducing a number of pilots to help us better understand what support ESA claimants need to help them move back into work. The more intensive support pilot will increase the frequency and intensity of Work Coach support for the first six months following completion of the Work Programme.
“The more intensive support pilot will increase the frequency and intensity of Work Coach support for the first six months following completion of the Work Programme.
“In specific ESA ‘hotspots’ (areas that need the most help) we will be piloting a more active regime for ESA claimants. Those awaiting a WCA will be offered voluntary employment-related Work Coach interventions and we will also be testing occupational health advice for Work Coaches and back pain management support for claimants with this common musculoskeletal condition.
“From early 2015, we are implementing a trial of the Claimant Commitment for ESA claimants at various stages of the claimant journey. Universal Credit claimants are required to accept a Claimant Commitment as a condition of entitlement, so the trial will inform our preparation for the cultural transformation that the introduction of Universal Credit requires for claimants and staff.
“The trial will take place in a single Jobcentre Plus District, with the groups being ESA claimants:
- awaiting a WCA (participation will be voluntary for this group);
- following a WCA (when allocated to the Work Related Activity Group); or
- who have completed their participation on the Work Programme.
“The Claimant Commitment helps to focus claimants on their work related requirements including, where appropriate, proactive work search that treats looking for work as a full time activity. For the first time claimants’ obligations are recorded in one place, clarifying both what they are expected to do in return for benefits and support, and exactly what happens if they fail to comply.
“We intend to introduce a measure to allow for a new extended period of sickness on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in April 2015.
“This will mean that claimants who expect to be sick for less than 13 weeks can opt to remain on JSA rather than switch to ESA. This will allow them to continue to benefit from the support of the Jobcentre to help them return to work – as soon as they have recovered from their health condition.
“We intend to introduce a measure to prevent claimants being paid the ESA assessment rate where a claimant has been found fit for work, but makes a repeat claim for benefit and has not developed a new condition or had a significant worsening of their condition.
“We would still need to consider the repeat claim but while we are considering it, and pending any appeal against our refusal of that claim, no ESA would be paid although JSA could be claimed. This is due to be introduced next spring and should help ensure that claimants found fit for work claim JSA and remain closer to the labour market, rather than looping around the ESA system.
“We will evaluate the results of these pilots and consider any changes needed as part of the next spending review.”
Responding to the announcement, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said:
“Employment Support Allowance is not fit for work. The Government’s failure to get right support for sick and disabled people is unacceptable. We have long campaigned to make ESA fit for work, and the changes proposed by Government today do not appear to address the deep-seated problems with this system. More than 180,000 people have come to us for help with ESA in the past year.
“Urgent changes to fit for work tests must be made to reduce waiting times and improve the accuracy and consistency of the assessments. Many Citizens Advice clients have been left for up to six weeks whilst waiting for a second opinion on their claim, whilst other people have been charged more than £100 by GPs for medical evidence to support their appeal. Ministers must ensure no one claiming ESA is left without financial support whilst challenging an assessment decision. Anyone who is sick or disabled and in need of support has every right to expect a system which is fair, gets decisions right first time and where they do not have to pay for medical evidence to support their claim.”