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Action for M.E. informs report on welfare benefit entitlement

July 25, 2016

Clearer information, a more consistent approach to supporting evidence and improved communication with claimants are some of the recommendations made in a report on welfare benefit entitlement, published by the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Based on research evidence, statistical analysis, site visits, and evidence submitted by a number of organisations and individuals, including Action for M.E., the Decision making and mandatory reconsideration study focuses on how decisions are made at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs, and particularly the potential impact of mandatory reconsideration on benefit decisions.

Action for M.E. submitted evidence based on the experiences of people with M.E. who had been told they were not eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) while awaiting their mandatory reconsideration notice on an appeal of an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) fit for work decision.

We highlighted the lack of understanding people with M.E. experienced from some welfare benefit advisors, and the barriers to accessing the welfare benefits they are entitled to.

This has been reflected in the study, which highlights the experience of claimants who can be “too well for ESA, too sick for JSA.” The Committee considers that people with fluctuating conditions in particular can find themselves falling in a gap in provision between these two benefits.

Among more than 20 recommendations made to address these issues, the Committee suggest that regular site visits from healthcare professionals to staff working on ESA claims be reintroduced. Telephone access to medical professionals has been reportedly patchy, so site visits could help facilitate further understanding of medical evidence among DWP staff, as would establishing a more consistent approach to the provision of medical evidence.

Other recommendations in the study focus on:

  • clearer advice on the procedure for mandatory reconsideration and claiming JSA while this is taking place
  • streamlining repayment processes so that claimants are not left without income for any longer than is necessary
  • greater transparency about how this feedback from tribunals is being used to improve decision-making
  • improving written and telephone communication with benefit claimants.

The Social Security Advisory Committee, chaired by Paul Gray, is an advisory, non-departmental public body, and as such its recommendations must now be responded to by the DWP.