How disabled people can earn and claim benefits

A new set of pilots will allow some disabled people to earn money for community work while claiming benefit, writes Gary Vaux

“Jobcentre Plus has more pilots than British Airways.” That was a comment from a participant on a training course I ran when I tried to describe the various employment, benefit and tax credit schemes that Jobcentre Plus is trying out, either nationally or locally, to put benefit claimants into work.

Claimants have, at least in theory, the options of Pathways to Work, Future Jobs Fund, Workstep (called Work Choice from next year), Flexible New Deal, Access To Work, Job Introduction Scheme, Work Preparation Scheme, better off in work credits, return to work credits, working tax credits, into work credits, self-employment credits and so on. If only the list of jobs available were as long.

Added to that list from January is a community allowance to be piloted in three areas. This one has particular relevance to social work, aimed as it is at those on employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit who are involved in part-time community-building work.

Carers excluded

This has been a longstanding issue for community development groups, which cannot financially reward the skills of residents on benefits because of the negative impact of any earnings on those benefits.

But the new scheme does not extend to carers, unemployed claimants or lone parents, who are equally disadvantaged from taking part in community activities or local authority consultation exercises.

It is also being evaluated on the impact that community-building work has on the employment prospects of the claimant, rather than the benefit that a service user’s paid input might bring to the community.

Incapacity benefit

The allowance will, however, allow claimants receiving ESA or incapacity benefit to earn money with no impact on their benefits. It will be launched in January. The pilots will last two years, and will be led by three organisations.

● Foresight in Lincolnshire.

● Learning Links in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

● St Peter’s Partnerships in Manchester.

The scheme seems more imaginative than the normal Jobcentre Plus offerings such as Pathways to Work. The latter is the name given to the process by which benefit claimants who are unable to work due to ill-health are handed over to private and third sector contractors for more “intensive” help in finding work. This scheme is apparently already under great pressure, even though it has only been operating nationally since April.

Part of this is due to the slow processing of ESA claims which is taking 20-30 weeks, instead of the expected 13.

Appeal against ESA refusal

If the claimant is turned down, the Pathways provider will already have invested time in helping them, which it must stop because the claimant is now “unemployed”, not sick. This has led to employment advisers in some Pathways schemes helping claimants to appeal against their ESA refusal so that they can continue working with them. It’s important to note that ESA remains payable while an appeal is pending.

Claimants taking part in any of the work-related schemes or claiming any of the employment-related benefits and tax credits should receive independent benefits advice to see what impact participation will have on their income. Jobcentre Plus, as an interested target-driven party, is not necessarily best placed to provide that advice, of course.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. You can e-mail a question

This article appears in the 19 November 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Community allowance scheme a step-up on the usual job lot”

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