Moving from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance

ESA Tip 1. Moving from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance

We try to answer some of the commonest questions about the process of being moved from incapacity benefit, or income support as incapable of work, to employment and support allowance.

Is there anyone who won’t be moved off incapacity benefit?

If you are due to reach pensionable age by March 2014 then you will not be reassessed, because the DWP don’t want people to have to change benefits twice in such a short period of time.

When will I be assessed for ESA?

The intention is that claimants will be assessed when they are due to have their next personal capability assessment.

Claimants who are exempt from the personal capability assessment (PCA) or who have not got a review date – people with ‘in the longer term’ on their prognosis – are due to begin the assessment process by March 2012.

Migration starts on 28 February.  However, in March only 1,000 claimants a week will be assessed.  In April this will go up to 7,000 a week.  From May onwards, the intention is to process 11,000 IB claimants a week

However, no-one knows quite what will happen when Atos and the DWP attempt to process 11,000 IB claimants a week. It is entirely possible that the timetable will not be kept to.

How will I know when the process has begun for me?

You will get a letter from the DWP telling you that you are about to be subject to the work capability assessment (WCA).  You will also get a telephone call confirming this and asking if you need any additional support with the process.  The next thing most people will receive is the ESA50 questionnaire, unless a decision to award you ESA is made just using the information already held about you.

Based on the information in the ESA50 questionnaire and any supporting evidence, plus on some occasions further evidence obtained from your GP or other health professional, either an award will be made or you will be asked to attend a medical

How will I be assessed for ESA?

The work capability assessment (WCA) for ESA is very similar to the personal capability assessment (PCA) for incapacity benefit.  Most people have to complete a questionnaire and then attend a medical at a medical examination centre.  A small number of people will be awarded ESA without having to attend a medical, especially those who are likely to be placed in the support group.

One of the main differences between an ESA assessment and an IB one is that for ESA you are being assessed not just to decide if you are capable of work but also, if you are not, to decide whether you are likely to be capable of work in the future and thus which ESA group you should be placed in.

If you are judged to be likely to be capable of work in the future you will be placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).  If it is decided that there is no reasonable prospect of you being fit for work, you will be placed in the support group.

The scoring system for getting into the WRAG is more straightforward than for IB.  You just have to score a total of 15 points, regardless of how many are for physical health and how many are for mental health.

To get into the support group you need to show that one of a number of descriptors apply to you, there is no scoring involved.

One other major difference is that it is a lot harder for most people to score points for ESA than it is for IB.

I’m exempt from the personal capability assessment, will that make a difference?

It won’t mean that you are exempt from the WCA – there are very few exemptions from the WCA compared to the PCA for incapacity benefit.  It is likely, however, as we have already said, that you wil be assessed in the first year of the transfer process.

I get the higher rate of the care /mobility components of DLA, will that make a difference?
Unfortunately, no it won’t.  There are no exemptions from the WCA for getting higher rate care.  And the test for ‘mobilising’ in the new WCA which applies from March 28, 2011 is very different from the test for walking for DLA.  So, it would be entirely possible to be getting higher rate mobility for DLA but still not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

What proportion of incapacity benefit claimants will get awarded ESA and what proportion will get into the support group?

The only figures available so far are from a pilot carried out in Aberdeen and Burnley.  The provisional figures for this showed that:
30% of IB claimants were found fit for work.
31% were placed in the support group.
39% were placed in the work-related activity group.

However:
It was only based on 1,347 decisions out of 1,700.
It didn’t include appeal results, but 123 people had already appealed at the time the figures were released.
The test was carried out using the work capability assessment that was current at the time.  But from March 28, 2011, a much harder to pass work capability assessment is being used.

So, these initial figures can only be taken as giving a very approximate indication of what proportion of IB claimants will get into each group.

If I go into the work-related activity group, does that mean I have to look for work?

No it doesn’t.  You can’t be forced to apply for jobs.  You will have to attend a number of work-focused interviews and may have to undertake various work-related activities such as training or face having your benefits reduced.  But you absolutely cannot be forced to take a job.

Will I be better or worse off under ESA?

Some people may be better off if, for example, they are placed in the support group.

The DWP say that, where you would be worse off on ESA, your present rate of IB will be paid to you and frozen until the rate of ESA you are entitled to catches up.

However, the DWP made similar promises that no-one would  be worse off under ESA than they would have been on IB when ESA was first introduced and this turned out not to be true.

How long does ESA last for?

If you are in the support group it lasts for as long as your condition continues to make you eligible.  In other words, if your condition doesn’t improve and your difficulties remain the same you should remain in the support group indefinitely.

If you are in the work-related activity group and eligible for income-based ESA then you will continue to be eligible for ESA for as long as you continue to pass your regular WCAs.

However, if you receive contributory ESA things are very different.  From April 2012, the DWP intends to only allow people to claim for a year.  They also intend to backdate this provision, so that if you have already been receiving contributory ESA for a year by April 2012, your entitlement will end immediately.

If I get found fit for work, what happens then?

You can appeal the decision.  Whilst you appeal you can claim ESA at the assessment rate, which will mean a substantial cut in income for most IB claimants.  If your appeal is upheld you will be moved into main phase ESA in whichever group the tribunal decided you should be in.  You will be paid any back money you are owed

At the moment, 40% of ESA claimants who appeal are successful, so it’s definitely worth doing.

However, it is the case that you can be assessed again soon after winning your appeal and may be found fit for work and have to start the whole process again.

If you don’t appeal or if your appeal is unsuccessful you will have to try to claim jobseekers allowance.

Rethink Mental Illness, the leading national mental health membership charity, working to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life.
Mental Health Foundation
The Royal College Of Psychiatrists