New Benefit Has Been a 'Catalogue of Errors'
Today marks one year since the government introduced the new 'Employment Support Allowance' (ESA) to replace Incapacity Benefit and Income Support for those who are sick and disabled. But far from being a cause for birthday celebrations, the first year of the ESA has been one of misery and frustration for many of the vulnerable people who are affected. Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) say that the CAB service has been flooded with complaints about the system, which they say is a 'catalogue of errors.'
Reports gathered from CABs all round Scotland show a consistent picture. Many claimants have been judged in-eligible, despite clear evidence from their GPs that they are not fit to work. Others have experienced delays with payment, because of 'red tape' in the system, and have been driven into debt. And others have received the 'wrong' benefit altogether and have had to re-pay it (NB 'Case studies' are available - see notes below).
Unveiling the list of problems today, CAS Chief Executive Ms Kaliani Lyle said,
Far from simplifying the system, the ESA hasmade matters much worse. It has created barriers to entitlement, and caused unnecessary financial distress and emotional strain to sick and disabled people all over Scotland.
"And this is not just a few isolated cases. Evidence from CABs throughout the country shows a catalogue of errors, from the first day the system was introduced right up until the last few weeks. Some applicants were wrongly told they were not eligible, so received nothing. Some received the wrong amount, and had to re-claim. Others were mistakenly paid twice and had to re-pay the balance. Meanwhile, Jobcentres have been giving clients conflicting advice, and throughout it all, the administration and red tape involved has caused huge distress to those affected.
"If this is an example of the government's vision for the future of the benefits system, then they need to urgently re-think their welfare reform plans. In the meantime, we need an immediate package of measures that will help those who have been let down by the current system. We need to see consistency in the way people are assessed, clearer procedural guidelines for the staff who are administering the system, a faster appeals process and a guaranteed 'same-day payment' for those who need to apply for crisis loans as a result of these problems.
"Because the people who are affected by this are among the most vulnerable people in our society, and they deserve better. The ESA has been a catalogue of errors, and one year of such a system is one year too many."
Some examples of real cases, drawn from CABs across Scotland, include the following:
Client A was judged by the ESA Medical Assessor to be fit enough to work, so wasn't entitled to receive ESA. So, he applied for JobSeekers Allowance (JSA), and was told (by the same Jobcentre) that he was unfit to work so couldn't receive that either. He is therefore receiving neither benefit.
Client B has an acute mental illness, and has had to submit three separate claims for ESA because the first two were lost by the JobCentre. The client's third claim was then forwarded (unnecessarily) between two different Jobcentre offices. All this time the client has been receiving no payments.
Client C applied for Incapacity Benefit three days before the ESA was introduced. He was initially told that he would receive ESA, but was later told that he should have been considered for Incapacity Benefit instead. After a long delay he finally received a giro cheque at 4pm on the last day of the month. As it was too late to deposit this at his bank, he incurred £400 in bank charges due to overdrafts when all his Direct Debits went out on the first day of the next month.
Client D was signed off work by his GP, and initially received ESA. But the payments stopped when the ESA Medical Assessor reversed the GP's decision and found him to be fit to work. The client applied for JSA, but was refused because his GP says he is not fit to work! The client had to take out a crisis loan. Thanks to CAB help, he has finally seen his ESA benefit reinstated - for the time being - but he is very distressed and concerned it may change again.
Client E is a lone parent who has terminal lung and heart cancer. Despite the severity of his condition, the ESA Medical Asessor judged him to be fit enough to work, so his claim for ESA was denied. He successfully appealed the decision, though is still suffering the financial hardship due to the debts he incurred because of the original decision.
Citizens Advice Scotland
Contact Tony Hutson 0131 550 1010. or 07774 751655.