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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has been much in the
news recently. The one-year time limit for payment of contributory
ESA came into effect in May 2012 and we covered ESA problems in our
July session of Ask an Expert.
Since then there have been a number of other developments around
ESA, especially concerning the recording of medical
The medical assessments for ESA are carried out by a private
company, Atos, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions
(DWP). On 1 February 2012, Christopher Grayling MP (who was at that
time responsible for ESA as the Minister for Employment within DWP)
promised in the House of Commons that it would be possible for
people to have their ESA medical assessment audio recorded.
He said: “On audio recording, we will offer everyone who wants
it the opportunity to have their session recorded. We decided not
to implement universal recording because, based on the trial
experience, people did not want it. Few people wanted their
sessions recorded and some said that they definitely did not. We
decided therefore to offer recording as an option to those who want
it. That seems entirely sensible.”
He repeated this undertaking on 5 July where he said in another
statement to the House of Commons: “The Department is currently
negotiating with Atos Healthcare to agree what contractual
information will be required to monitor uptake of recordings. In
the interim, departmental officials have asked Atos Healthcare to
accommodate requests for recordings where the claimant requests in
advance of their assessment.”
However, many people who have asked to have their medical
assessment recorded have been told that this will not be possible.
They have been told they will have to attend a medical anyway and
that payment of their ESA would stop if they did not attend.
One Turn2us service user who submitted a question to
our July Ask an Expert session on ESA had this problem. He had
already had two previous appointments postponed as no recording
equipment was available at his assessment centre. Then
Atos told him that his assessment could no longer be
postponed and that he would have to attend the new date arranged –
at which no recording equipment would be available.
Disability Rights UK, one of the expert panel from the July Ask
an Expert session, contacted the DWP directly on his behalf and
recording equipment was eventually located for his assessment.
Disability Rights UK asked if a client who did not attend an
assessment because recording equipment was not available would be
automatically considered to have 'good cause' for not attending a
medical and not be at risk of having their ESA award
In response to the enquiry from Disability Rights UK about this
man's situation, the DWP said:
“As per DWP policy, Atos are continuing to try and accommodate
requests for audio recording where a claimant makes this request in
advance of their assessment. On 1st February 2012, when Minister
spoke about the DWP policy in this area, demand for recordings was
low. Since it became public knowledge that requests for recordings
could be made, there has been an increase in numbers of requests
made. This in turn has put pressure on equipment and the ability to
provide this service.
"Whilst Atos are doing all they can to accommodate advance
requests for audio recording, there may be times where the service
cannot be offered. In these circumstances, clients will be informed
that their request cannot be accommodated and an appointment for an
unrecorded WCA booked. In these cases, if the claimant fails to
attend the WCA, the case would be referred back to a DWP decision
maker to consider if good cause for failing to attend exists.
Guidance for staff in DWP and Atos is regularly reviewed, and will
be updated to reflect the current situation.
"Unfortunately, DWP does not keep the level of information about
good cause decisions you have asked for, so we are unable to
provide you with any figures.
"We are currently looking at ways to improve availability in the
short term, additional machines have been ordered and DWP remains
committed to evaluating the service later in the year.”
So for some time still to come, many claimants who have asked
for their medical to be recorded will have to attend an assessment
where recording equipment is not available. The situation may
become clearer when the DWP publicise the results of their
evaluation which they have promised for later this year.
In March 2012 the DWP published
statistics on the first 114,000 incapacity benefits claimants to be
reassessed under the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) (link
opens in a new window). Those who passed the WCA are converted
onto payment of ESA. The figures show that, of the 114,000
claimants who started the reassessment process up to July 2011, 63%
were found to be entitled to employment and support allowance, with
34% placed in the work related activity group and 29% in the
support group. The remaining 37% were found fit for work.
There are no statistics of how many of these people may have
appealed against this decision or the results of any appeals
The DWP were due to publish more up to date figures on IB to ESA
conversion in July 2012 but these have been delayed.
For further information on ESA, read our Employment and Support Allowance information
sheet and Employment and Support
Allowance changes May 2012 information sheet
Browse our Ask an Expert session on
Employment and Support Allowance
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