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Those who ‘fail to attend’ telephone work capability assessments may now have their ESA stopped or UC entitlement changed

05 November 2020

The DWP has said that action will now be taken where someone fails to attend an ESA or Universal Credit telephone health assessment without “good reason”.

In its 6 November Touchbase update newsletter the DWP says:

“When telephone health assessments were introduced in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC) earlier this year, an easement was in put in place so that Fail to Attend (FTA) and Fail to Participate (FTP) actions were not taken as a result of someone not attending a scheduled telephone assessment.

From Monday 2 November, the ESA and UC telephone assessment appointment letters will make it clear that claimants must attend their telephone appointment. FTA and FTP action will commence, e.g. benefit may be stopped (ESA) or entitlement change (UC), for those who have been issued with this letter and fail to attend or participate in their appointments without good reason.

No one will have their support stopped without being contacted first. People will be contacted to ask them to explain why they did not, or could not attend or participate in the assessment and where good cause is provided and accepted, support will continue.”

If someone does not attend or participate fully in their work capability assessment then they are treated as not having a limited capability for work unless they can show “good cause” for not attending or in the case of Universal Credit “good reason”.

While you can appeal a decision that you do not have good cause you cannot be paid the basic allowance of ESA pending an appeal on this issue.

In March 2020, the DWP took a number of actions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including:

  • cancelling face-to-face assessments for disability benefits, and introducing phone assessments in their place;
  • protecting those already on disability benefits from having their benefits stopped by suspending benefits reviews and reassessments for three months;
  • introducing a safeguard for the new phone assessments that meant anyone who missed a call, or couldn’t engage with the phone assessment, wouldn’t have their disability benefits removed as a penalty.

While the DWP have removed some safeguards, until 2 November it was still the case that if assessors couldn’t reach someone for their phone assessment their approach was to try to reschedule where possible, and to keep people on their existing level of benefits if they couldn’t make contact.

Guidance for the Work Capability Assessment during this period states that:

“If the claimant does not answer within three attempts, claimants will remain on their current award until we are able to conduct a face-to-face assessment or gather the evidence needed for a recommendation to be made via another route.”

However, this final safeguard has now been removed.

The burden will now be on disabled people to prove that they have a good reason for missing an appointment.

If the DWP does not accept their proof, then they risk seeing their benefit stopped or reduced.

Mind has published an excellent briefing on the implications of the 2 November easement.

It also contains the following recommendations that DR UK fully supports:

  • reinstating this safeguard which provides protection for people who can’t engage with a telephone assessment;
  • reintroducing the suspension of benefits reassessments, along with the suspension of sanctions and conditionality.

See also High Court rules mandatory reconsideration requirement for ESA claimants unlawful.