Citizens Advice Scotland has responded to reports that the UK government has admitted that the controversial Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) is ‘failing’.
CAS Policy Manager Keith Dryburgh says,
“Ever since it was first introduced in 2008 we have been arguing that this system is not fit for purpose, and is hitting some of the most vulnerable people in our society – including sick and disabled people and their families. For 6 years we have published regular evidence reports showing the real-life impact that this flawed and unfair system has on people. Our argument has been based directly on the real case evidence that we see in Scottish CABs. (see cases below)
“ESA today remains by far the biggest single issue dealt with by Scottish CAB advisers. ESA cases make up over a quarter (27%) of all our work. They have also been increasing as a proportion of all CAB work: in 2011/12 Scottish CABs dealt with 49,000 ESA issues, the following year this rose to 76,000, and in 2013/14 that increased to around 82,000 ESA issues. That is a 68% increase in two years.
“The ESA has been deeply flawed from the beginning, and it remains in need of major reform. We will continue to make the case for change, and to recommend specific improvements that can be made to the system, so that sick and disabled Scots can get the support they need and are entitled to.”
In March CAS submitted our latest evidence report on ESA to the UK Parliament’s Work & Pensions Select committee. That document can be seen at /system/files/publications/CAS%20response%20WP%20Sel%20Cttee%20ESA%20and%20WCA%20FINAL.pdf
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The best way to understand the impact of ESA, and how it is failing, is to look at case examples. See below a selection of such cases as reported by Scottish CABs. These are all taken from the above report. We stress that these are not isolated examples but are representative of the cases we have seen since ESA first began in 2008.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is awaiting a decision on her ESA claim which she made three weeks ago. She had been on JSA from November until the end of January, and prior to that was on ESA. She has been borrowing money for friends and receiving meals from them. She often stayed overnight as she has run out of credit on her electricity meter. Her housing benefit has been affected due to not being on benefit. Her next DLA payment is due tomorrow. The bureau phoned the ESA enquiry line, who could find no record of the claim, even though the client had received a phone call from the DWP stating they need further evidence from her GP. The bureau called the new claims line who confirmed that a claim had been made and was with a decision maker. They could provide no further information and suggested phoning the enquiry line for more information.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who reported that his ESA claim form had been received by DWP but his doctor’s certificate was missing. He had been told to fax a copy to the DWP, but had not been given the relevant number. The CAB adviser contacted the telephone number which had called the client, but it did not accept incoming calls. He then called the Benefit Delivery Centre, spoke to another adviser at a contact centre in Lancashire and then got put through to the ESA Existing Claims line. Everyone the adviser spoke to refused to provide a fax number. Finally the adviser agreed to make an appointment at the local Jobcentre Plus so that they could fax the certificate to the relevant department.
A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has learning difficulties who is now applying for ESA. She has been on JSA but has found it very difficult to comply with the requirements, such as contacting employers and operating computers. This has resulted in a lengthy sanction. She has limited mental capacity, affecting her understanding and communication. The client has been told by JSA staff that she is lazy and not trying.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who applied for ESA at the beginning of November. He returned all forms he was sent and submitted medical certificates from his GP, but has been left without payment or any written communication despite repeated attempts to communicate with Jobcentre Plus. DWP have confirmed they received his application, and he has been phoning daily and been told conflicting information and promised an emergency payment which has not materialised. When the bureau spoke to the DWP they confirmed they had the correct information from the client and that he had been promised an emergency payment, but there was no record that anything had been done about this.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who wanted to find out what was happening with his ESA claim. The client has been submitting medical certificates since September (5 months) but has received no payment. The bureau had previously called the DWP who said that the application was with Atos and DWP could not help. Atos told the bureau that the client would get an appointment when one became available. Today the bureau called the DWP and was told that the client’s claim was closed at the beginning of September. This is the first the client or bureau knew of this despite repeatedly calling the DWP and Atos in the interim. The client has been relying on friends and family, but they are no longer willing to help, and he is without gas and electricity.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who wanted an update on his ESA reconsideration from 15 weeks ago. The bureau called the DWP who had no update on record over his reconsideration. He tried to claim JSA but wasn’t allowed to as he wasn’t well enough to fulfil his jobseekers agreement.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who attended an ESA assessment at the beginning of November and was awarded 6 points. A letter requesting a reconsideration was posted at the end of November, and the decision upholding the DWP’s decision was finally received at the end of January. The client is taking forward an appeal.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has received a letter saying she had been awarded 0 points in their WCA. The client had a stroke two years ago, has agoraphobia, depression, irrational fears and other long standing mental health issues. The information on the outcome letter differs to the information they provided at the face-to-face assessment. They called the DWP to say they would be submitting a mandatory reconsideration. The client had an appointment at the Jobcentre today where she was told she cannot claim JSA as is not well enough for work.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been waiting eight months for a Work Capability Assessment, and is still receiving the assessment phase payment of ESA. The bureau contacted Atos to establish what is happening with his claim. They were told that “Atos have no appointment to offer the client”, and that the client “may or may not receive a new appointment date.”
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who needed to find out about her ESA claim, which was submitted in October (four months ago). She has had no contact about an assessment. When contacted Jobcentre Plus said that Atos were currently being audited by government on their performance under the contract and there were delays in arranging assessments. There was no geographical pattern to the delays and DWP had no information on when the assessment might be done. The client is also awaiting a PIP assessment. She has recently been diagnosed with cancer, has epilepsy and mobility issues. She currently lives with her parents due to her illness.