Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau is providing extra support for people wishing to appeal against ESA decisions.
Claimants of Incapacity Benefit are currently being switched to the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The transfer involves a reassessment of all applicants, including a Work Capability Assessment.
BCABS are concerned that the process for deciding who is eligible for ESA is still flawed, resulting in thousands of seriously ill people being told they are fit to work.
Experts at all four of the Birmingham bureaux, including Northfield, can provide advice and assistance to anyone affected and are encouraging people to seek advice, whatever stage of the assessment process they are at.
Citizens Advice has already raised concerns with the government about shortcomings in the design of the Work Capability Assessment and the way the test is carried out. It says the test is too crude, and decisions on who qualifies for ESA fail to give proper weight to GP assessments. This is particularly notable in conditions with fluctuating symptoms, such as multiple sclerosis, which is characterised by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ periods.
A report by Citizens Advice Scotland demonstrated that, in the first year, 70% of client appeals against decisions to remove ESA were successful, and rising to 90% when an advocate speaks on the client’s behalf. Overall, only 40% of all benefits appeals are successful, suggesting that the assessment system is flawed and that people should seek advice and representation.
Emma Cook, BCABS Operations Manager said: “We want to ensure people know about the process and what is involved – it can be very lengthy, and good advice is vital. If you want to find out more about the process, or have been placed in a group you don’t believe you should be in, or have been refused ESA altogether, then seek advice”.
BCABS are also asking applicants to help them assess the process and how people are being affected. Clients can fill in a diary as they go through, or after completing, the ESA claiming process. Responses are completely confidential and anonymous.
The diary can be found online or contact the Community Outreach Team for a paper version on 0121 700 7469.