1 March 2006

In a move which could cost some disabled claimants over £1,000 and which makes it harder for terminally ill adults to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the government has gone back on its word not to make changes to claim packs simply for administrative convenience.

In December a new DLA claim pack was introduced which is no longer divided into separate sections. As a result claimants are unable to return section one alone within the six week deadline if they are having difficulty completing the more complex section two. Moreover, vital information for terminally ill claimants about the fact that they do not have to complete most of the claim pack has been replaced with instructions to complete all the pages that apply to them, potentially discouraging claims.

Benefits and Work has now produced new detailed guides to completing the DLA claim pack which seek to offer people ways to deal effectively with the changes.

£1,000 down
Claimants who phone for a DLA claim pack have six weeks from the date of the phone call to return the completed form. If they get the claim pack to the DWP within the deadline, their claim begins on the day they made the call. If they miss the six week deadline their claim begins on the date the DWP received the completed pack.

Until December the DLA claim pack was divided into two sections. Section one was nineteen pages long and largely about administrative details such as the claimant's name and address and contact details for their health professionals. Section two was twenty three pages long and contained a multitude of questions about what difficulties the claimant faced carrying out everyday activities such as walking, washing, dressing, eating and drinking. In both the old and the new packs, claimants are asked to explain what problems they have with different tasks, how long they need help with these tasks, how many times a day and how many days a week. Many people find section two extremely confusing and emotionally draining and it is often after struggling to answer these questions that they seek help from an advice agency.

However, until last month claimants who were having difficulty completing the more challenging section two within the deadline had the option of simply returning section one on its own. This would be sufficient to register the claim and claimants would then generally be given an extra month before the DWP began writing and phoning to ask for the return of section two.

With the new single part claim pack this option no longer exists. A claimant entitled to higher rate care and mobility who, because of their health conditions, misses the deadline for completing the form by just one day will now potentially lose out on over £600 in DLA. If they are also entitled to premiums in their income support they may miss out on over £1,000 on total.

Advice agencies
The new forms are also proving a headache for already overstretched advice agencies. Many of these have long waiting times for claimants who ask for help with DLA claims and who, because of their health conditions, need one or more appointments or home visits in order to complete section two. Until now, advice agencies had relied on being able to send off section one on its own in order to avoid missing the deadline. With the introduction of the new claim pack this is no longer possible.

Special Rules
If a claimant's death can reasonably be expected within six months because of a progressive disease their DLA claim is dealt with under the Special Rules. Because they automatically qualify for higher rate care under the Special Rules, terminally ill claimants do not have to give any information about their care needs . (They still have to prove any entitlement to the mobility component, however).

In the old claim pack the notes on the Special Rules clearly explained that you did not need to complete any of section 2 unless you had problems with mobility, in which case there were just two pages you had to complete. In the new claim pack terminally ill claimants are simply told "Answer all the questions that apply to you". It seems highly likely that many terminally ill claimants and their carers, faced with the daunting prospect of completing a 40 page claim pack, simply give up on the idea there and then. Only those who have the stamina to persist will discover the note tucked away at the very bottom of part 9 of the claim pack, which tells people claiming under the Special Rules that they can go straight to page 25.

The omission of vital information for terminally ill claimants is particularly astonishing given the findings published by MacMillan Cancer Relief last year. They found that more than half of the 154,000 people a year who die from cancer do not claim the benefits they are entitled to, saving the DWP around £126 million a year. Not surprisingly, one of the main reasons for the low take-up of DLA was found to be the complicated and confusing claim process. The new claim pack may well net the DWP some millions more in unclaimed benefits

Broken promise
The new single part form is undoubtedly more convenient for the DWP, already overdue in its project to provide a claim pack that can be completed online. And not having to chase up part twos will undoubtedly save money, as will being able to refuse backdated DLA to people who miss the six week deadline.

But back in October 2002 Maria Eagle, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told MPs in an adjournment debate on changes to DLA claiming that:

'At every stage, development proposals on claim forms are presented to a forum of disability organisations, the modern service working group, to ensure that the changes meet the needs of and are in the best interests of disabled people and are not just administrative expedients. Those organisations can tell us whether we are on the right track.'

It is clear, however, that the current changes are not in the interests of any disabled claimants or their advisers. The new pack has been introduced solely to make dealing with DLA claims cheaper and easier for a government department which is currently in the process of shedding one third of its staff in order to cut costs.

It is also clear that the Modern Service Working Group, now renamed the Disability and Carers Service Advisory Forum, has yet again been unable to exert any influence whatsoever over the DWP. Indeed, as far as we are aware there have been no protests at all about the changes from any of the national disability or welfare benefits campaigning charities.

Given that Disability Alliance published a new, updated edition of its page-by-page guide to completing the DLA claim pack in November, just one month before the pack changed, it seems unlikely the DCS Advisory Forum - of which Disability Alliance are members - were even consulted.

New guides
Benefits and Work has now published four updated guides to completing the new claim packs for adults and children with mental and physical health problems. New issues covered include:

  • Returning just part of the pack before the deadline.
  • What the decision maker must take into account if you ask them to extend the six week time limit.
  • Appeal rights if you are refused an extension of the 6 week time limit.
  • Which parts of the pack terminally ill claimants should complete.
  • Using a personal capability report as evidence for a DLA claim.
  • Your rights when arranging an appointment with a visiting doctor.
  • How to avoid letting a visiting doctor take an oral statement from you.
  • Oral warnings from visiting doctors.
  • Your rights if asked to attend a Medical Examination Centre for a DLA medical.

The guides are available as free downloads for Benefits and Work members.

We have also contacted the team responsible for the new claim pack asking why information for terminally ill claimants has been removed - we'll let you know their response.


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