Welfare Rights: the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants

The implications of the fitness-to-work regime for social services users

What social workers need to know about the new fitness to work regime. By Gary Vaux

Next month, the government will start the four-year process of reassessing 1.5 million people receiving incapacity benefit (IB) or income support (IS) due to ill-health, writes Gary Vaux.

Given the numbers of people on IB/IS who are also social care service users, this change will have an enormous effect on social workers, who may be asked by their clients for support during the reassessment and subsequently.

The scheme will be piloted in Aberdeen and Burnley before a national roll-out in April 2011, concluding in 2014.

The Department for Work and Pensions has promised that no one moving from IB/IS to employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for IB, will lose benefit “at the point of change”.

But that may mean having payments frozen for a number of years if their old benefit level is worth more than ESA.

However, it is expected that about 23% will be declared to be capable of work, and moved onto jobseeker’s allowance, meaning they could lose £40 a week or more.

In addition, proposals to cut 10% off housing benefit for people who are on JSA for over a year will create a double whammy of potential losses – and maybe a triple one when disability living allowance gets reviewed and reassessed from 2013 onwards.

The migration to ESA alone will mean almost 10,000 reassessments nationally a week. Jobcentre Plus will write to customers when their benefit becomes due for reassessment to tell them about the changes then will phone the customer shortly after this to check they have received the letter, that they understand what they need to do, and find out if they need help.

Customers will then be sent a medical questionnaire (ESA50) by Atos, which is contracted to carry out the assessments, to complete and return. The ESA50 and any other evidence supplied will be used to decide if the customer needs to attend a medical assessment. A Jobcentre Plus decision maker will then decide if the person is entitled to ESA.

If the customer is disallowed ESA, Jobcentre Plus will call them to inform them of the decision and discuss their options, such as JSA, other forms of income support or pension credit. They may also move off benefit altogether. They will be sent a letter to confirm the decision and will have one month to lodge a review or appeal.

The date of a customer’s reassessment will be based on the review date of their existing personal capability assessment – the former system for judging incapacity to work. But people who reach state pension age from 2010-14 will not be reassessed during this, to avoid having to change benefits twice in a short period.

Gary Vaux (below) is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please click here if you have any questions for him  


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