Back to work

So… we are back at “work” (more on what I did on my so-called holidays to come later) and I have a new term resolution to start blogging again… we will see whether I manage to stick to it.

I’ve just been down to the Chamber for DWP questions, and managed to get in on Question 1, asking about delays in benefits assessments. My office was chasing up a delayed claim a week or so ago and we were told that in Bristol, Atos – who are about to lose their contract but are still doing the job at the moment – are looking at claims from early 2013. That means that people with disabilities and/ or mental health issues have been waiting for over 18 months to see whether they can get Employment Support Allowance, causing huge stress and anxiety, as well as financial hardship. Here’s shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves being quoted on it recently:

In Bristol we were told that the delays were partly down to difficulties in recruiting people to carry out medical assessments, and also because a backlog of around 3000 claims have been redistributed from elsewhere to Atos offices around the country, adding to the workload. This is clearly not acceptable.

The other, related, issue I’ve been looking at is the backdating of payments when someone’s claim is refused but succeeds on appeal. This can sometimes take months – I’ve been talking to two people today, who both succeeded on appeal; one had to wait around 3 months for a decision and the other has found out today that her appeal has been successful, having had her claim rejected last autumn. During this time they’ve been on (significantly lower) JSA rates rather than ESA.

A successful appeal – barring any interim deterioration in health – means that the original decision was wrong. And that means the claimant should be entitled to their ESA being restored back to the original date, and backpayments given, which can amount to hundreds of pounds – and sometimes even more, given the appalling delays. I’m seeing signs that the DWP are trying to avoid paying up. I’ve collected quite a few examples already, and have spoken to Rachel Reeves about it today too.

This is about people getting what they’re entitled to – and they’re not asking for much. Indeed, one of those I mentioned above – described by health specialists as a “textbook case of ME” -spent nearly 20 years not claiming anything, relying on her parents, until I intervened. Some people can’t go ‘back to work’ today. They’re not fit to work. Is it too much to ask for the DWP to show a bit of compassion?

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