Bad form, in short

Anyone who has struggled with attendance allowance (AA) and disability living allowance (DLA) claims forms will be relieved to hear that both sets of forms are being replaced. However, claimants may find it harder to get the benefit because the new, shorter forms do not give them enough chance to prove entitlement.

Attendance allowance claim forms changed with effect from 6 October. There will now be just one 20-page claim form, instead of the present two-part 32-page claim pack. The form now includes some “filter” questions, which are supposedly designed to “focus the customer only on information relevant to their individual circumstances”.

Clearly, the answers to these filter questions are vital. For example, claimants are asked to tick a box if they need help throughout the day with personal tasks. A list of a dozen or so of these tasks is then given. If the claimant ticks that box, they then have just a quarter of an A4 page to describe the help they need.

Although the forms are shorter, they are not simpler. It will take more skill than ever to describe a claimant’s condition and care needs in the limited space available. My suspicion is that the new form makes the represented claimant even more likely to be successful at the expense of those who try to complete the form themselves.

Claimants are also urged to submit copies of care plans and medical reports or assessments, as well as having some extra space to give “any other information about how your illness affects day to day living”.

When the new forms were tested in Bristol earlier this year, the results showed:

  • An increase in the number of telephone calls made to the claimant by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to clarify or gather evidence.
  • A slight increase in the number of successful claims (but there may have been a drop in the number who got the higher rate allowance).
  • Over a third fewer reports from visiting doctors were commissioned and 15 per cent fewer factual reports from GPs were obtained.
  • A reduction in the number of requests for reconsideration and appeals.

It will be interesting to see if the success rate for claims is maintained once the pilot stage is completed. The reduction in appeals is worrying, as claimants win over 60 per cent of initial AA claim appeals.

A new disability living allowance claim form for adults begun testing in the north Thames area on 22 September. The new form is around half the size of the previous pack. When the new packs were tested in Glasgow, the Scottish Association for Mental Health sought evidence about how the forms were affecting claims from people with mental health problems in particular. The DWP claimed that, to make up for collecting less evidence from claimants in the shortened packs, they would telephone more people for additional evidence. There were fears that having to give more evidence over the telephone to complete strangers would discriminate against some people, including those with mental health conditions which involve, for example, feelings of anxiety or shame.

DLA and AA forms have long been a headache for social work, health and advice staff. But will the new versions improve matters?

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a query for him please write to him c/o Community Care.

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