DWP faces one other name to behave over pandemic evaluation unfairness – Incapacity Information Service
The Department of Labor and Pensions (DWP) is facing its second call to act for consecutive weeks on the impact of the pandemic on disabled people waiting for their benefit entitlements to be assessed.
Last week, the Disability News Service (DNS) reported how some personal independence payment claimants who had successfully overturned decisions in the tribunal were told that their support was due to a lack of reviewers and a backlog of claims caused by COVID could be discontinued soon -19 crisis.
However, last year’s decision by the DWP to discontinue all personal assessments is also causing financial difficulties for another group of applicants.
Many disabled people who have sought assistance through Contributory Form of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are still awaiting decisions about their entitlements.
This is because DWP’s private contractor’s appraisers, Maximus, were unable to secure all of the information they need about some claims through telephonic appraisals and advised those in that position that they were ready to resume Have to wait for face-to-face assessments.
Participating ESA applicants who are entitled to the benefit based on previous social security contributions and not for income-related reasons can only receive payments for a maximum of 12 months if they are included in the work-related activity group (WRAG) *.
All ESA applicants are automatically included in the WRAG until the assessment process is completed.
This means that even if they should have been included in the self-help group and should therefore have been entitled to continue receiving payments after 12 months, their payments will be reduced if their claim has not been decided by the end of the year.
The last DWP figures before the pandemic showed that 64 percent of those who had an initial work ability assessment (WCA) were assigned to the self-help group and only 16 percent to the WRAG.
One of those affected is David **.
He submitted an application for the contributory form of ESA [now also known as New Style ESA] in May 2020 and participated in a phone review by Maximus in November.
He later received a letter from Maximus advising that the company’s reviewers could not complete the assessment because they needed more information that they could only get through a personal assessment.
He was told to wait for this review until DWP lifted the personal review suspension.
However, in February he was informed in a letter informing him of the annual increases in benefit payments to be introduced in April that his payments would cease in May when his annual entitlement expires.
He was told, “This is because you have reached the maximum of 365 days to receive a contributory ESA.”
Although he believes that once his assessment is complete he should and will be accepted into the support group, his support ends – at least temporarily – on that date.
Social advisors told him that they had received numerous inquiries and concerns on the same subject while his MP raised the issue with the Labor and Pensions Ministers.
He said, “I’m lucky. I will not end up on the street or go hungry. My wife works and our house is paid for.
“What really annoyed me about the DWP’s approach was their persistent indifference and injustice.”
Finn Keaney, Head of the Welfare Team at Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest, said, “The DWP insists on withholding payments from New Style ESA until applicants can go through a personal assessment process, which the department and its contractors are not currently doing Able to manage, many sick and disabled adults have no idea how they will pay their basic living expenses.
“Even those who are not excluded from the use of universal credit are faced with an impossible choice: they have to go to ESA for an indefinite period of time without payments or switch to universal credit and do without payments for specific weeks.”
He added, “I spoke to a DWP representative for the first time in July 2020 after learning about the problem.
“They confirmed to me that it has already been identified and taken ‘as high as it can’ … hard to believe eight months later it’s still a problem.”
Ken Butler, Welfare Rights Advisor at Disability Rights UK, said DWP’s own numbers show that “it is likely that most people whose ESA has stopped being paid will actually later be considered eligible if they join the support group .
“Given the disability employment gap, there was no justification for limiting ESA contributory payment to just 365 days.
“Given the arrears caused by the pandemic, this payment limit should be lifted until the disabled applicant has had a successful WCA or until the appeal process is completed.”
DWP declined to say how many claimants were affected by the problem and whether it believed it was causing injustice.
However, it said it had improved its skills and processes, which means it can now conduct a second telephone assessment for those applicants who previously received a telephone assessment with no eligibility decision.
This should reduce waiting times, while giving priority to applicants who cannot be assessed by phone or video when resuming in-person assessments.
As a result of that statement, David contacted Maximus this week to ask if he could have a second telephone assessment. However, he was told that this was not possible and that personal assessment was still required.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The vast majority of applicants are now safely screened over the phone and we are working hard to ensure that people get the assistance they are entitled to at the earliest possible time.
“Participating ESA applicants who did not have a WCA at the end of their application can have them restored if they are accepted into the self-help group at the WCA and the money owed to them is paid retrospectively.
“You may also be eligible for universal credit assistance.”
* DWP says that the WRAG is intended for those who are “able to return to work in the future”, while the support group is intended for applicants with higher support needs and obstacles to work
** Not his real name
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