Citizens Advice Bureaux see disability benefit problems soar by 67%
17 January 2013
As MPs debate issues with Atos, new figures just released by national charity Citizens Advice reveal that last year CAB advisers in England and Wales helped people with 430,000 problems about Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit paid to people too sick or disabled to work - up 67% on the previous year.
An unprecedented 90,000 of these enquiries specifically concerned appeals. A further 70,000 were about the controversial Work Capability Assessments (WCA) carried out by Atos and used to decide if people are fit for work.
Citizens Advice today renewed its call for Atos to be fined for every inaccurate WCA report it produceswhere a decisionis overturned at appeal. Official government figures show the cost of appeals from 2009/10-2011/12 to be £60 million. DWP figures show 38 per cent of appeals against an ESA decision are successful and CAB advisers estimate the success rate at appeal where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented is around 80 per cent.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
"Mistakes by Atos have a human cost and a cost to the tax payer. Getting medical assessments right first time is absolutely essential to ensuring that seriously ill and disabled people get the support they are entitled to, and cutting the number of unnecessary appeals.
"Private companies on government contracts must be accountable to the public. Government should act now to put in place regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of work capability assessment (WCA) reports and look at imposing financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate report that they produce."
Problems with benefits and tax credits are up 8% in 2012 compared with the previous year. They now represent 35% of all enquiries to bureaux, compared to 30% concerning debt. Employment Support Allowance generates more enquiries than any other benefit at 18% of all benefit advice.
This is reflected locally. Lynn Teague Manager Forest of Dean CAB says we have seen a large increase in the numbers of clients seeking help to overturn these decisions a high proportion of these are turned round at appeal stage with benefits being reinstated and back dated. Welfare enquiries are now out stripping the number of debt enquiries we deal with. With a high percentage of these concerning Employment Support Allowance and the assessments by the ATOS doctors. w e are reporting a high level of social policy issues regarding the stress this causes the client.
For further information please contact Forest of Dean CItizens Advice Bureau 08444 111 444