A welfare charity claims people halfway through fit-for-work test are now “stuck” without benefits because of a knock-on effect from the COVID-19 coronaviruse outbreak.
According to Z2K thousands of disabled people are trapped in the system.
Director of the charity, Marc Francis told MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee: “We anticipate there are tens of thousands of people who are stuck in the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ stage for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
"We’re anticipating there’s going to be quite long delays in mandatory reconsiderations being completed.
"We can’t have a situation where people are left for months on end without being able to apply for that.”
If you raise a complaint about your ESA the initial stage is mandatory reconsideration (MR), but the waiting time for the fist process to be completed raised from six days last summer to 16 days in January.
There is an option to claim Universal Credit instead, but this has not been advised by Z2K because it’s a long and complicated process if you wish to revert back to the old system once a claim has been put into place.
As for face-to-face assessments, these meetings have been put on hold, although they may go ahead by phone or by paper-based.
Ayaz Manji from Mind said: “It’s a time where particularly now disabled people shouldn’t be experiencing shocks to their income.
"And we have an assessment process which is very unreliable.
"There is a strong case for suspending those reviews altogether in the near future so we can safeguard people during this time.”
James Taylor from Scope believes disabled people are being “caught out”.
Eleanor Southwood, Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: We’ve supported 30 people so far who’ve had these often time limited offers to settle immediately in a phone call.
"That’s 8% of the people we’ve supported in the past six months.
“We have examples of somebody who declined to take the ‘right now’ offer and then an appeal was awarded over £3,000 more than the offer had been.
“We have examples of people who were given an hour to make a decision.
"And somebody who was phoned on Christmas Eve at 9am and told they had to decide by lunchtime.”
Southwood added: “If there is one single thing that undermines the credibility and confidence in the system, it is the perception that people are being pressured into accepting offers which are, in all but one case in our experience, lower than what an appeal then finds their entitlement to be.”
DWP minister, Justin Tomlinson said last week: "That is not something that should be happening.
"What we have done is changed the mandatory reconsideration process so that we can try and support those claimants who are challenging a decision to gather the additional oral and written evidence at that stage rather than then having to wait for the lengthy independent appeal process.
"Stakeholders and charities are extremely supportive of this process.
"But I’m disappointed to hear that in some cases, it hasn’t been of the standard that it should be and we will review that."
The DWP will also suspend face-to-face assessments for people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Universal Credit and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits for the next three months to protect vulnerable people from coronavirus.
Work and Pensions Secretary said: “As we move into the next phase of our response to coronavirus, it is right we take steps to protect those with health problems.
“Temporarily suspending face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits will allow us to ensure we continue to provide a safety net for those in need, while removing unnecessary risk of exposure to the disease.”
You can read the list of vulnerable people at risk from coronavirus in our previous article.
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