The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has denied the existence of a “Catch-22” situation that could affect thousands of disabled people unfairly found “fit for work” following an assessment by its contractors Atos Healthcare.
From next month, those found ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the new out-of-work disability and sickness benefit – will have to go through an extra stage before they can lodge an appeal with the tribunals service.
During this “mandatory reconsideration” stage – which will see a DWP officer looking again at the claim to see if the original decision was correct – the claimant will no longer be entitled to receive ESA.
Currently, claimants can continue to receive ESA while they appeal, but from next month they will instead have to claim jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), or survive without any benefits.
Campaigners say that this creates a Catch-22 situation, because by claiming JSA they will have to declare they are fit and available for work, even though they believe they are not.
They will only be able to claim ESA again – at the lower assessment rate – once mandatory reconsideration is over, if they need to lodge an appeal.
A DWP spokesman said: “This is not a Catch-22 situation. At the point a claimant claims JSA they are fit for work – that was the effect of the decision which ended the ESA entitlement.”
He insisted that any disabled person claiming JSA during the mandatory reconsideration process “would not be compromised” by that action.
He added: “If the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful and the claimant appeals then the law says that they can be treated as not fit for work pending the appeal being heard. At that point the claimant can choose to return to ESA under this law or remain on JSA.”
The spokesman said there was no time limit for completion of the mandatory reconsideration process, although “each application will be done without delay”.
He said: “Some will be done in days; others where the claimant wishes to provide more evidence may take longer, as the law says we must allow a month for evidence to be provided.
“We intend to closely monitor the situation for the first six months and review the process accordingly.”
But Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the rules would leave many disabled people who were not currently “fit for work” without benefits, because they would not be allowed to claim JSA if they told the DWP they were unable to work.
Even if they did manage to claim JSA, they would be likely to face sanctions if they could not meet the tough conditions set down for claimants.
She said: “There is going to be this big black hole that people will disappear into, from what I can see.”
DWP also apologised this week after a mistake in a Freedom of Information Act response suggested that the introduction of mandatory reconsideration for ESA had been postponed until October 2014.
5 September 2013