After the launch of our new report, Chief Executive Raji Hunjan explains why we need fundamental changes to the disability benefits assessment process

“They say you’re capable of working. You feel like a liar and a fraud.” Lucy, ESA Claimant

“It affected me mentally, it was very hard.  The distress, the pressure on your head …  I was crying a lot, it was hard to cope.”  Manish, ESA Claimant

“More than anything it was the most stressful time for me, and I suffer from depression and anxiety at the best of times."  Sarah, PIP Claimant

 

On Thursday 5th July, we at Zacchaeus 2000 Trust launched our new report in Parliament. Having worked with 100s of clients who have been denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), it was a report that we felt compelled to write – to contribute our knowledge and the voices of our clients to the growing anger about the treatment of people with disabilities, going through disability benefits assessments and the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) process. 

The launch was hosted by Emma Dent Coad MP, who welcomed the report as the right combination of statistical evidence and outrage.  Well, we are outraged, we are really very angry that so many of our clients are suffering unnecessarily because they are being denied the benefits they are entitled to. 

There are two major concerns that led to us as a campaigning and advice organisation wanting to shine a light on this issue.

Firstly, the number of cases we are winning.  On a monthly basis, our average is around  85% of all ESA and PIP appeals that we take to tribunal being found in favour of our clients.  With a success rate so high, there is no doubt that something is going terribly wrong earlier in the process of applying for ESA and/or PIP.

Secondly, the impact on clients who are denied benefits.  It is not uncommon for clients who are denied ESA to quickly find their housing benefit is also stopped, leading to rent arrears and risk of eviction.   For those denied PIP, there is the risk of being brought into scope for the benefit cap – again leaving clients vulnerable rent arrears. 

Our report, Access Denied, makes some clear recommendations:

  1. The Government must urgently improve the way existing assessments are carried out.  In particular that decisions are made on detailed medical evidence, collected from health professionals who know the client and the condition well

 

  1. That there is fundamental change to the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) process which was previously introduced to review and correct flawed assessments. MR decision makers must have sufficient training and expertise to be able to conduct a full case review.  If this cannot be achieved, then the MR stage should be abolished as it is not working.

 

  1. In the absence of fundamental reform of the system, the Government should ensure that funding is available to advice agencies to take cases to appeal and ensure representation for clients who otherwise feel unable to attend tribunal.

 

Over the coming months we will be meeting with politicians and others in the sector to discuss how we can take these recommendations forward and continue to push for change. 

Fundamental change in how disability benefits are awarded is possible and achievable, as long as it starts with a commitment to ensuring that all disabled and unwell people receive the benefits that they are entitled to.  And as long as there is a genuine recognition that people who are sick and/or disabled understand their own conditions and that they should be believed.