If anyone left in doubt that this Government’s policies are grossly unfair, and are intentionally punishing sick and disabled people – some of whom are amongst the most vulnerable of our citizens – you need look no further than Clause 99 for verification. Currently, claimants who are found fit for work can continue to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) at the basic rate by immediately lodging an appeal if they think the decision is wrong. ESA will then remain in payment until the appeal is decided.
That is all set to change, however, under Clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill, intended to be effective from April 2013 – and according to the Department for Work and Pensions, from October 2013 that includes ESA and DLA decisions. Under the new rules, claimants who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, there will be a mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information, before deciding whether to change the original decision.
There will be no time limit on how long this process may take. The requirement for a mandatory review/revision before proceeding with appeal applies to all DWP linked benefits. During the review, no ESA will be payable, not even the basic rate. However, once the review is completed, those wishing to appeal may claim basic rate ESA again, up until the tribunal. It’s important that people know to request this continued payment from the DWP, once they have lodged their appeal.
The ludicrous claim from Government is that this “simplifies” the appeal process, and “the changes will improve customer service by encouraging people to submit additional evidence earlier in the process to help improve decision making. Resolving any disputes without the need for an appeal will also help ensure that people receive the right decision earlier in the process.”
Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe this is the genuine reasoning behind clause 99 at all. The successful appeals to date provide a growing and substantial body of evidence that the Work Capability Assessment isn’t fit for purpose. People are being wrongfully denied their claims for ESA. Mandatory review will make it very difficult for people to continue with an appeal, since their lifeline income will end for an indefinite period until the review is completed and they can proceed with appeal.
You will also have to appeal directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services – this is known as “direct lodgement” – as DWP will no longer lodge the appeal on your behalf. DWP has agreed with the Tribunal Procedure Committee to introduce time limits to stipulate how long DWP has to respond to an individual appeal. The DWP is currently discussing what these time limits might be with the Tribunal Procedure Committee. That is assuming, of course, that people manage to circumnavigate the other consequences of this legislation.
From 1 April 2013 you will not be able to get Legal Aid for First-tier Tribunal hearings. Legal Aid will still be available for appeals to the Upper Tribunal and Higher Courts. See appealing to the Upper Tribunal against a first tier tribunal decision here: legal aid act 2012 for more information. So much for the right to a fair hearing.
There are some serious implications and concerns about these changes. Firstly, there is no set time limit for DWP to undertake and complete the second revision. Secondly, claimants are left with no income at all whilst they await the review, and until appeal is lodged. The DWP have stated that there is “no legal reason” to pay a benefit that has been disallowed during the review period. The only choice available seems to be an application for Job Seekers Allowance. (JSA) or Universal Credit. However, we know that people in situations where they have been refused ESA have also been refused JSA, incredibly, on the grounds that they are unavailable for work, (and so do not meet the conditions that signing on entails) or they are unfit for work, because they are simply too ill to meet the conditions.
We know of people who have had their application for JSA refused because they attend hospital for treatment once a week and so they are “not available for work” at this time. Furthermore, the minimum waiting period for a new claim to be processed is 6 weeks. That’s 6 weeks with no income at all.
Moreover, there is some anecdotal evidence of people being told by the DWP that in order to claim JSA, they must first close their original claim for ESA, since it isn’t possible to have two claims for two different benefits open at the same time. DWP are also telling people that this means withdrawing their ESA appeal. However, you have the right to appeal.
Another grave concern is that although most people on income related ESA are automatically passported to maximum Housing and Council Tax Benefit, from the time that the claim ends, (and for whatever reason), eligibility to housing benefit and council tax also ends.
However, I would urge people in this situation to contact the Housing Benefit office promptly to explain the situation – the DWP automatically contact the Council to tell them when someone’s eligibility for ESA has ended. It is always assumed that the person claiming has found work when their DWP related benefit eligibility ends.
You can still claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit because you have a low income, or nil income, but you will need contact the Benefits Section, and will need bank statements to demonstrate that this is true, and also, any other evidence you may have, such as your notification letter from DWP, evidence of your tenancy and ID. If you have no income as a result of your ESA being stopped, ask for a nil income declaration form. (Like this one, for example)
You may also apply for discretionary housing payments if you are likely to become homeless, and if there is a shortfall between your Housing Benefit, and rent costs. It’s also payable sometimes when you have legal costs. It’s certainly worth asking your Local Authority if you qualify for payment. There are limited funds available.
I am informed that when an appeal is pending, providing the Housing Benefit Office is informed of this, there should be some support towards rent and Council Tax. However, this is going to place further strain and difficulty on people who are ill and disabled. Housing Benefit is calculated by taking the work activity or support component of ESA into account, and currently, when basic rate ESA is payable up to appeal, some claimants are not necessarily eligible for the maximum Housing Benefit awards.
It’s therefore possible that Housing Benefit entitlement will be lower, with no basic rate ESA being payable after April 1st. I would urge people to contact their Local Authority as soon as you know your ESA award has ended, because otherwise they will simply close your Housing Benefit and Council Tax claim.
I can confirm that there was no risk analysis or risk register in respect of clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill. I sent an FOI to DWP that asked about these issues, together with questioning that Clause 99 contains no reference to a time limit on ESA reconsiderations, although it makes them mandatory. I asked :-
1) When is the intended implementation date?
2) As yet no decisions have been made regarding ESA payment levels
during the reconsideration period which could be indefinite. Can you
give an assurance that this will be announced BEFORE
3) What data will you collect so that the effects of this
legislation can be accurately analysed subsequently?
4) Where are the risk assessment, impact analysis and risk register
that show the effect this will have on claimants whose benefit
payments could be affected indefinitely?
The response informed that the planned implementation date is April 2013, and “the DWP will conduct a formal public consultation in line with the Government’s code of practice on consultation. This does not include publishing a risk register or conducting a risk analysis. This is because all aspects of the proposed changes are considered during the consultation process and in the impact assessment and equality impact assessments related to the changes”. There are no plans to introduce a time limit, or to retain payments of basic rate ESA throughout the second revision and leading up to appeal.
The DWP published consultation document “Mandatory consideration of revision before appeal” that could be accessed via the DWP web site under the heading “Consultations”. The consultation concerned issues relevant to the implementation and operation of the appeals reform provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill and invited comments on the draft regulations. I worked on raising awareness regarding the issues that the Government’s draft raised, as well as prompting and garnering responses to the consultation.
I can also confirm that the Government response to the consultation did NOT take into account any of the concerns we raised collectively, in particular, regarding the lack of a time limit on the DWP to produce the mandatory review, and the withdrawal of basic rate ESA to those awaiting the review outcome .
So, the consultation was evidently a sham, nothing more than paying lip service to an increasingly perfunctory democratic process. Given that basic rate ESA is exactly the same amount per week as JSA, we need to ask ourselves why the Government have withdrawn the ESA safety net for those wanting to appeal DWP decisions that they are fit to work. Why introduce another layer of DWP bureaucracy to the appeal process, and why is it the case that there is need for a second revision, if the first response is based on robust procedure and decision making, and yields accurate and fair outcomes?
Of course we know that the outcomes are neither fair, accurate, or based on robust decision making. We know that some 40% of appeals for ESA were successful in 2011 and that this percentage rose to around 80% when claimants had representation at appeal. That is pretty damning evidence against this Governments’ claims that the system is working, and that many disabled people “can work”.
It’s likely that Clause 99 has been introduced to make appealing wrongful decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.
More than 10,600 people have died following being told they were “fit for work”, and this presents a significant statistical increase (from 310 deaths over the same period amongst incapacity benefit claimants) that correlates with the current system, and it is astounding that our Government have failed to address this. Instead, they have made the system even more brutally punitive, dehumanising and grossly unfair.
Clause 99 is simply an introduction of an additional obstructive layer of Kafkaesque bureaucracy to obscure the evidence of this. This Government is oppressive and certainly bears all of the hallmark characteristics of authoritarianism.
We need to be pressuring the government for the introduction of a time limit (on both legal and humanitarian grounds) as currently there is none. I did enquire to see if DWP had any internal rules or guidelines yet regarding a time limit but so far they have not. We also need to be pressuring for basic rate ESA to continue. That was a major part of the consultation response, too.
Meanwhile, legal challenges to this unfair and totally unacceptable addition to the Welfare Reform Bill will be going ahead.
Government’s response to the public consultation.
The DWP published a short mandatory consideration of revision before appeal – Government interim response to public consultation which stated that the Department did not propose to make any significant changes to the draft regulations included in the consultation document as a result of the comments received.
The Government’s final response to the consultation included the following:
- There is to be no time limit for the completion of mandatory reconsideration of decisions.
- No decision has yet been made with regard to paying ESA pending reconsideration but other benefits may be available to claimants where ESA has been disallowed.
- It was confirmed that housing benefit and council tax benefit will not be included in the mandatory reconsideration process.
- Where a person makes a late application for revision, the Department will be removing the requirement that an application for revision cannot be granted unless it has merit, and removing the regulation which requires that, in deciding whether an extension of time is reasonable, the decision maker cannot take into account the fact that the individual misunderstood the law or was ignorant that they could request reconsideration.
In considering a late application for revision, the decision maker will look at whether it is reasonable to grant the application for an extension of time, and what the circumstances were that meant that the application could not be made within the one month time limit.
The decision maker will still consider whether an any time revision can be made, or whether the decision should be superseded when considering a late application for revision as they do now.
Where a request for reconsideration is made out of time, and the decision maker refuses the application to revise the original decision, the effect of the draft regulations is that there can be no appeal as the Secretary of State must consider whether to revise the decision before an appeal can be made.
Update: No basic rate ESA will be payable whilst people await the mandatory review, to challenge wrongful decisions. No appeal can proceed until that has been done by DWP, there is no time limit on DWP to undertake the review.
Lord Freud speaking in the Lords about basic rate ESA and the mandatory review :-
“I turn now to ESA. At the moment, if someone appeals a refusal of ESA, it can continue to be paid pending the appeal being heard; this is not changing. What is changing is that there can be no appeal until there has been a mandatory reconsideration. So there will be a gap in payment. In that period—and I repeat that applications will be dealt with quickly so that this is kept to a minimum—the claimant could claim jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit. Alternative sources of funds are available. Of course, he or she may choose to wait for the outcome of the application and then, if necessary, appeal and be paid ESA at that point.”
Later he said:
“Under the current position, there is a voluntary process whereby people can go for reconsideration and the ESA is not payable until the decision is taken to go formally to an appeal.” Lord Freud (Source: Hansard)
GL24 and Appeal information.
From April, you will need to send your GL24 appeal form (DWP leaflet “if you think our decision is wrong”) or a letter directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services.
How to appeal by letter.
The appeal must contain:
- the appellant’s name, address and National Insurance number
- enough information to identify the decision under appeal (benefit claimed and date of decision);
- the grounds for the appeal;
- if late, the special reasons for lateness and/or why the appeal has a good chance of success;
- the appellant’s signature (or the signature of a person with written authority to act on their behalf).
Update: Guidance on revision and handling appeals for benefits
Note 3: The guidance comes into effect
from 8.4.13 for PIP and from 29.4.13 for
UC, JSA and ESA.
Decision Makers should note that mandatory reconsideration is being
8.4.13 for PIP
29.4.13 for Universal Credit
28.10.13 for JSA and ESA.
However, we are still hearing about cases where the mandatory review is being used already, and this ought to be challenged on the grounds that DWP have provided dates when clause 99 is to be implemented, and so ought to be working to that legal timetable.
The revision process applies to:
1. UC, PIP, JSA and ESA
2. decisions on credits
ESA – Appeal statistics – before the MOJ spin!
Who is accountable and legally liable for the well-being of those deemed “fit for work”?
Step by step guide to appealing a ESA decision: Good Advice Matters
Sign the WOW petition – a call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.
It’s a call for an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.
Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.
An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.
Help – potential sources of funding from Charities and Trusts that help people out of poverty and debt:
3000 benevolent funds
Directory of National food banks
Representing yourself in Court
The LawWorks Clinics Network is a nationwide network of free legal advice sessions which LawWorks supports. Clinics provide free initial advice to individuals on various areas of law including social welfare issues, employment law, housing matters and consumer disputes – List of LawWorks clinics
“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” – Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone
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