Welfare Rights 7 January 2010: simpler isn’t always better

Gary Vaux questions whether the drive to simplify benefit applications could give some people the impression they are not entitled

The Department for Work and Pensions wants to make its life as simple as possible by cutting out unnecessary procedures and processes. But what if the ‘simplification’ jeopardises benefit entitlement or puts people off from claiming in the first place?

The department has recently introduced a pre-claim checklist into the disability living allowance claims process, with the aim of sifting out those with no chance of success. Potential DLA claimants are being asked some very basic questions when they ask for a claim form. Some are ‘factual’, aimed at deterring claims from people who have only very recently become disabled or who have only very short-term illnesses. Fair enough. But others ask the claimant to make a judgement about whether or not they have “care or mobility needs”.

The danger is that people will not have a full understanding of the benefit and may give the ‘wrong’ answer. If they do, they will be advised that, although they still have the right to make a claim, their claim will be unlikely to succeed.

Many claimants will be deterred at that stage, having been told by a DWP official that they are effectively wasting their time by filling in a very long and daunting claim form.

A number of claims are indeed being ‘withdrawn’ before being made (or even recorded, so there is no chance of an appeal), but it seems that the success rate of the remaining claims isn’t increasing, which should be the case if the “unlikely to succeed” claims are being weeded out.

In addition, a new four-page DLA renewal form is being used to collect evidence when a DLA claim is up for review. It is now sent out 20 weeks before the existing DLA award is due to end, instead of the previous 26 weeks.

If there has been no change in the claimant’s condition or circumstances, they are invited to tick a single box and simply sign and return the form. But if there has been a change in circumstances, the claimant has to explain what it is. This could include:

• Changes in medication, treatment or therapy (including details of any new doctor or consultant) and whether the changes have made any difference to care or mobility needs.

• Whether the claimant has had surgery or received new medical information

• Whether prescribed aids or adaptations are being used

• Changes in accommodation such as going in or out of hospital, prison, a care home, foster or local authority care, a special school or college.

If there have been any such changes, there are two more questions:

‘Do you need more or less help than before to get around out of doors because of the changes you have told us about?

‘Do you need more or less help than before with your personal care because of the changes you have told us about?

There are two small boxes to give more information about the help now needed. These two tiny boxes replace 27 pages of the former DLA renewal claim.

Accompanying the form is a letter which tells the claimant that if they don’t want to claim DLA anymore, then they needn’t return the form, and their DLA will stop when the current award ends.

This is very odd advice, as the DWP has a policy, which it is now stringently enforcing, that any reduction or ending of a DLA claim will take effect from the date that the person’s condition improved, not from the end of the existing award.

People getting one of these new renewal forms can still send in additional information of course – and that could include downloading a copy of the blank DLA claim form from the DWP website and completing the relevant pages explaining their care, supervision and mobility needs.

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