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DR UK questions the need for the new Health and Work Conversation to be mandatory

17 July 2017

DWP FOI responses give fuller picture of mandatory Health and Work Conversation.

Following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the DWP has published several internal documents that give a fuller picture of its new Health and Work Conversation (HWC) initiative.

Launched in April 2017, the initiative is part of the “Personal Support Package”, which includes £330 million of additional employment support over 4 years “for people who due to an illness or disability are unable to work at the moment, but may be able to in the future”.

The HWC is a mandatory work focused interview for new ESA claimants around week 4 of their claim (although some people are exempt from having to attend).

Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights Adviser Butler says:

“The DWP piloted the HWC on a voluntary basis and said everyone, claimants and work coaches, thought it worked really well at starting to build positive engagement.

So why is the HWC still not purely voluntary?

Why enforce it with sanctions when many people for whom work-related activity is not appropriate may be caught by them?

The HWC claimant booklet says “you need to take part in the HWC”

as it is part of your claim to ESA. Your ESA payments could be reduced if you don’t take part in your conversation”

But will work coaches have enough information so that those disabled people who are exempt from the HWC are not asked to attend a HWC?

The information as to what claimants are exempt from the HWC must be given to claimants themselves.

There is no evidence that sanctions are effective in incentivising disabled people to remain in touch with the job market or move into work.

Given the extra costs that disabled people already face in their day-to-day lives, sanctions are especially punitive.”

About the guidance

The DWP’s internal guidance says that :

“The interview is a discussion between the claimant and the work coach to identify voluntary actions the claimant can take to build their confidence and motivation.

The claimant’s attendance and participation in the HWC is mandatory and they may be sanctioned if they fail to do so without good cause.

Any actions agreed at the HWC are voluntary. Claimants cannot be sanctioned if they do not undertake any agreed actions. “

This mandatory conversation supports claimants with health conditions and disabilities, it allows the claimant and work coach to discuss their skills, abilities and goals and find out about the support that is available to help them move closer to work.”

Importantly, one FOI response has confirmed that the DWP does not have the statutory power that requires a claimant to disclose sensitive personal data during WFI, including the HWC.

While the DWP has no specific guidance for work coaches related to the avoidance of sensitive personal data when carrying out ESA related interviews, it says that within the HWC “claimants do not have to discuss certain information if it makes them feel uncomfortable”.

Asked if a claimant undergoing a mandatory HWC, who does not want to disclose, write down on or discuss and health and disability sensitive personal data get referred for a benefit sanction (when they are happy to engage with all other aspects of the HWC) the DWP says:

“The HWC is a claimant led conversation and claimants can decide whether they want to discuss their health. If a claimant feels uncomfortable answering some question in the HWC they will not be referred for a sanction.”

But the DWP stresses that should someone refuse to engage at all in the HWC then they may be referred for a sanction, “depending on the circumstances of why they have not engaged”.

The following DWP FOI responses relating to the HWC are now available at https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/h%22health%20and%20work%20conversation%22/all

They include the following training and operational documents.

Training documents

Operational documents

More about benefit sanctions

For more information see our: