9 October 2003

A radical new Attendance Allowance (AA) claim form, which slashes the amount of evidence provided by claimants, and in trials resulted in a 33% reduction in appeal requests, is being rolled out nationally between the 6th and 23rd of October. There was no official announcement of the change, leaving advice agencies no time to train staff on completing the new packs. Meanwhile, a similar sawn-off claim pack for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has been introduced in London and the south east. With national disability organisations remaining silent on the issue, the DLA claim pack is almost certain to go national too.

AA roll out
The new AA claim pack reduces the amount of space claimants have to provide evidence about their attention and supervision needs from 16 pages down to just 3 pages. The shortfall in evidence from claimants is supposed to be made up by decision makers making additional telephone calls to the claimant and other people named in the claim pack. In fact, trials in Bristol showed that fewer than one in eight claims was the subject of even one additional call.

In addition, whilst the proportion of successful claims remained the same, the number of appeals plummeted by 33%. This is in spite of the fact that 63% of AA appeals are successful. There is a strong concern that many of the additional phone calls may have been as much about erroneously persuading older claimants that they were not eligible for AA, as they were about trying to get additional evidence.

Further suspicion has been aroused by the DWP's refusal to release the full results of the AA trials, leading to concerns that some claimants with harder to assess conditions - including those with mental health conditions - may have lost out under the new system. The DWP have also so far failed to make public the results of a shortened DLA claim pack pilot held in Glasgow from 17th March. Results should have been published in September but have yet to appear.

Avoid the AA claim pack
Currently the old AA claim pack is still available to download from the DWP website at www.dwp.gov.uk. Claimants who are sent the new claim pack may still wish to use pages 3 to 18 of section two of the old claim form to give detailed evidence of their condition. They can then simply write: 'See additional sheets' in the boxes on pages 8 and 9 of the new claim pack and staple the whole lot together. Benefits and Work hopes to have a guide to the new AA claim pack available in the near future.

Sawn-off DLA pack
The DLA pilot, which began in London and the south east on 22nd September, is not compulsory. Claimants who ring the Benefits Enquiry Line on 0800 882200 for a claim pack can say that they wish to be sent the standard claim pack rather than the trial one. However, past experience suggests that claimants will either not be told that they have a choice or will be strongly encouraged to use the shortened pack.

The pilot DLA claim pack provides just 4 boxes for claimants to give all the information needed about their attention, supervision and mobility problems, compared to 19 pages in the standard claim pack. The DWP claim that this will 'encourage a more focused description of the problems being experienced by the customer'. In fact, it is likely simply to lead to much less evidence being given by claimants and to people with some types of health condition finding it even harder to claim DLA. As one dismayed local MIND welfare rights worker posting on Rightsnet put it, after noting the lack of references to mental health conditions on the form:

"This will take us straight back to the bad, bad old days when potential claimants simply scanned a claim pack and then binned it because they felt it just didn't apply to them".

Unlike the AA trial, a DWP memo on the DLA pilot does not even suggest that decision makers will be making additional phone calls in connection with claims. Instead, the memo simply says that:

"This focused questioning from the outset has the knock on effect of being able to inform the gathering of further evidence from the most appropriate source, where such evidence is considered necessary".

How often decision makers will consider such further evidence gathering necessary when they are being offered bonuses for meeting decision making targets remains to be seen.

Disabled people might well be hoping that national disability and advice organisations will protest loudly about the sudden introduction of the new claim packs and the withholding of trial results. Sadly, their hopes are likely to be dashed.

The most appropriate forum to make any protests is the Modern Service Working Group (MSWG). This is a collection of representatives of national disability organisations and DWP staff which meets to discuss changes to claim forms and, in the words of the minister: 'ensure that the changes meet the needs of and are in the best interests of disabled people and are not just administrative expedients'.

Disappointingly, members of the MSWG have made no attempt to explain why they failed to warn their fellow workers and disabled claimants about the adoption of the AA claim system nationally. They have also yet to reveal whether they agreed to the trial of a DLA claim pack which seems so likely to disadvantage claimants with mental health conditions. If as seems probable, they simply weren't informed or consulted by the DWP, then it is difficult to see how they can continue to sit on a committee which appears designed simply to make stooges of many previously highly respected voluntary organisations.

Members of the MSWG include Citizens Advice (formerly NACAB), Disability Alliance, MIND and Rethink (formerly the National Schizophrenia Fellowship). Citizens Advice recently received £20 million from central government to set up an intranet and is currently seeking to extend its links with the state by acting as an intermediary in the provision of electronic government services.


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