People with mental health conditions are being denied the opportunity to complete an application form for sickness benefits, it has been revealed.
An investigation by Benefits & Work found that Maximus – who is one of the private contractors replacing Atos – are not sending application forms (ESA50) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to some claimants with mental health conditions.
Benefits & Work say that the forms are vital for understanding how a claimant’s health effects their ability to work, prior to being asked to attend a face-to-face assessment – otherwise known as the Work Capability Assessment or WCA.
Despite this, some claimants are not being sent the ESA50 and are being fobbed off with excuses such as “one isn’t need in your case”, or “you don’t need to fill one in”.
Benefits & Work contacted Maximus in order to clarify the contractor’s policy in relation to issuing the ESA50 to claimants with mental health issues.
Initially they responded by saying: “An ESA50 is automatically issued once a referral is made. This needs to be completed and returned, along with any medical evidence, prior to an assessment taking place.
“If a person’s medical condition changes after the form is submitted, these changes can be discussed during the assessment. There is no need to fill in another form. We ask everyone to bring any additional medical evidence along with them, when they attend.”
They later added: “The only people that would be asked to attend an assessment without completing an ESA50 are those who a doctor has recorded on the referral, have a diagnosed mental health condition.”
In order to avoid any doubt, Benefits & Work pushed Maximus – trading as the Centre for Health and Disability Assessment (CHDA) – to acknowledge whether this is their official policy.
A spokesperson responded: “That is correct, but we would like to emphasise to people that they should follow the advice they are given by CHDA”.
A statement on the Benefits & Work website says it’s “entirely proper that where claimants with a mental health condition fail to return their ESA50 within the statutory time limit they still should be given the opportunity to have a face-to-face assessment”.
It continues: “But to fail to send out an ESA50 appears at best to be an extremely misguided, and potentially unlawful ‘concession’ to claimants with a mental health condition.”
Benefits & Work are urging ESA claimants with a mental health condition who have not been sent a Work Capability Questionnaire to download a copy online.