18 November 2007
Sick and disabled claimants are being tricked by Jobcentre Plus into completing a questionnaire which will lead to them being asked to attend an interview intended to get them back into work.
The letter accompanying the questionnaire has been changed to give the impression that returning it is mandatory and that it is primarily about making sure claimants are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.
The form asks claimants to say whether they agree with a number of questions about work and health, such as:
'I think I might be worse off financially if I work'
'I am worried that if I look for a job my benefit may be stopped'
'I find it hard to concentrate on anything for longer than a few minutes'
'I find it difficult to get motivated'
At the time, the letter accompanying the questionnaire stated that returning it was optional. However, Benefits and Work has been sent a recent copy of the letter which states:
We've enclosed a short form with this letter. The form should take no longer than 3 or 4 minutes to complete and it can really help us to help you. The information will be held in strictest confidence and will not affect your benefit. Once you've completed this, please drop it in the post in the envelope provided by 13th November 2007 - there's no need for a stamp.
Claimants are no longer clearly informed that participation is voluntary and the inclusion of a deadline for return seems designed to trick people into believing they have no choice.
The letter begins with the misleading heading 'Your incapacity support' giving the impression it is about incapacity benefit rather than support to get back into work. The first line reads: 'If you've not been in touch with us recently you may not be getting the full support you're entitled to.' Again suggesting that the letter is about benefit rather than work.
We called the Pathways to Work Team sending out the letter and they confirmed, reluctantly, that returning it was voluntary. They went on to explain that claimants who do return the form are then invited to an interview with an Incapacity Benefit Personal Advisor who will discuss the help they can provide to get the claimant back into work and also do a benefits check.
Claimants who do not return the form are not invited to an interview.
Our advice remains not to complete this form, particularly because some of the questions overlap with the questions used in the Personal Capability Assessment used to decide whether a claimant is capable of work . As we said back in July: there are plenty of other agencies that can offer you advice about returning to work without potentially jeopardising your benefits.