Dramatic fall in numbers placed in ESA support group

Sun,25 September 2016
News Benefits

Disabled people placed in the support group following a new ESA claim fell by 42% in the three months up to March 2016, according to the latest DWP statistics.

For assessments completed during November 2015, 57% of claimants were placed in the support group.  But by February 2016 that had dropped by 24% points to just 33%.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s welfare rights adviser, said:

“The dramatic fall in the number of disabled people being placed in the support group is very disturbing.

There has been no recent statutory change to the work capability assessment descriptor scheme.

In addition, there has been no healthcare professional or decision-maker guidance publically issued by the DWP that would account for the fall in support group numbers.”

I suspect that the reduction is related to more restrictive assessment of whether someone meets the provisions of ESA regulation 35 (substantial risk to physical or mental health if found not to have a have a limited capability for work-related activity).

Earlier this year the DWP was reported to be considering abolishing regulation 35.

"My concern is instead that it may effectively be trying to do the same thing by issuing ‘secret’ guidance to Maximus, which carries out WCAs on behalf of the DWP, which restricts support group recommendations.”

The number of claimants placed in the ESA support group because of regulation 35 has seen a fall from 9,500, for claims that started in April 2015, to just 3,000 for claims that began in December 2015.

That new DWP restrictive guidance is responsible for the fall in support group numbers is supported by Ben Baumberg Geiger, Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent.

In a detailed statistical analysis – The return of the stricter WCA? – he concludes:

“The guide to healthcare professionals notes that the Revised Substantial Risk Guidance was issued by the DWP in 2015 and implemented early 2016”, so we should just be about to see the impact of it now. And we do.

From claims begun in June 2015 to December 2015, people allocated to the Support Group due to Regulation 35 dropped from 30% of completed assessments to merely 12%. In contrast, Support Group allocations for other reasons stayed basically the same (reducing from 26% to 24% of claims).

To my mind this is all pretty convincing – it has become harder to get allocated to the Support Group from the start of 2016, because the DWP has made it harder for assessors to make judgements on the grounds of a risk to people’s health.”

The latest DWP statistics also reveal that that in July 2016, of the 13,200 mandatory reconsiderations of fit for work assessment outcomes just 4% resulted in a revision. However, 60% of ESA fit for work appeals are successful.

The return of the stricter WCA? is available at www.rethinkingincapacity.org/return-stricter-wca/

Our factsheet on the ESA work capability assessment is available at www.disabilityrightsuk.org/work-capability-assessment