18 March 2010

Benefits and Work can exclusively reveal the reason why so many exempt incapacity benefit claimants now receive a questionnaire to complete.

The truth, in writing, was finally winkled out of a senior Jobcentre Plus official by a Benefits and Work member who does not wish to be identified. 

It appears that in October 2008 the DWP changed its system for dealing with incapacity claimants when they are re-referred, i.e. when they are due to have their eligibility checked again.  The DWP also handed over to Atos Healthcare the job of collecting further medical evidence.

According to a letter from a senior DWP manager:

“… where the customer was previously found to be exempt but with a function related prognosis, an IB50 questionnaire is sent at the re-referral stage to afford the customer the opportunity to present an up-to-date picture of their situation.  On receipt, the scrutinising Disability Analyst can then decide if exemption or deferral can be justified on medical grounds, or whether an IB113 should be issued to obtain further medical evidence.”

What this appears to mean is that unless you are exempt for life, there is a very strong possibility that you will be sent a questionnaire to fill in when you are re-referred.  This will particularly be the case if the last Atos healthcare professional stated that your condition was likely to improve.

We believe that this is wrong.  Where there is evidence in the form of a previous medical report, or a previous decision without a medical, that a claimant is exempt we consider that effectively ending that exemption without evidence by sending the claimant an IB50 questionnaire to complete is unlawful.

If the previous Atos Medical report indicates that the claimant should be treated as exempt, but may improve within say three years, then there is still a very strong prima facie case for exemption and it should be for the DWP to check with the claimant’s GP to see if there has been any improvement. 

In effect the DWP are ending a claimant’s exemption by sending them a questionnaire, even though there is no evidence, only a prediction from the distant past, that exemption may now have ended.

We have now updated our members guide ‘Exempt but sent a questionnaire’ to reflect this new information.  The guide sets out your options if you are exempt but sent a questionnaire and includes sample letters you can copy and paste to your local office and to the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus.

You can download a copy of 'Exempt but sent a questionnaire' from this page.


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