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Turn2us Employment and Support Allowance information sheetEmployment and Support Allowance developments

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 assessments.

Recording medical assessments

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​.”​

Problems encountered

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 terminated.

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.

Incapacity benefits (IB) conversions to ESA

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 made.

The DWP were due to publish more up to date figures on IB to ESA conversion in July 2012 but these have been delayed.

Further information

For further information on ESA, read our Employment and Support Allowance information sheet and Employment and Support Allowance time limit information sheet

Browse our Ask an Expert session on Employment and Support Allowance


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