19 January 2011

The DWP have repeatedly refused Freedom of Information requests to release copies of the new ESA50 form which claimants will have to complete from March 2011, adding to the uncertainty about what medical test incapacity benefit (IB) claimants will actually have to undertake when transferred from IB to employment and support allowance (ESA).

Benefits and Work first requested a copy of the new form before Christmas, but we were informed that it had not yet been created, so could not be disclosed.  Our latest request has also been refused, with the DWP now claiming that it is exempt from disclosure under section 22 of  the Freedom of Information Act, which covers documents that are to be published in the future.

The DWP say that the new version of the form will not be available until 14th March, on which date it will also be available to download from the Directgov website.  This contradicts previous DWP claims that they would begin sending out the new form in mid-February.

It also means that no-one outside the DWP and its closest allies yet knows for certain whether the extremely harsh new work capability assessment, created under new labour and adopted by the coalition, will be introduced in time for the start of the IB to ESA transfer. 

Regulations for the revised work capability assessment were referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee in July 2010.  The committee subsequently sent its response, which Benefits and Work understands was highly critical of the changes, to the DWP.  In ordinary circumstances the DWP would long since have published the report and stated whether it accepted any of it or – more likely – was simply going to ignore it.

However, with the regulations due to come into force on 28 March, there has still been no publication by the DWP.  There have been statements from ministers, most recently in response to the Harrington report, that they intended to go ahead with the changes.  But to leave the report and final regulations unpublished at this late stage is highly unusual.  It adds to the uncertainty felt by claimants and leaves advisors unable to prepare for potentially radical changes to the assessment system.

Which no doubt suits the current administration very well indeed.


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