The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a report the purpose of which was to introduce representatives from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide a briefing on Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments and a generic update on welfare reform.
Janet English, Partner Development Manager, DWP, gave a presentation which provided an overview of the Welfare Reform Act which was regarded as the most fundamental reform to the social security system for 60 years. The Board was advised of the significant task of providing as much information as possible and guidance to partners for customers and clients. It was pointed out that the Team had seen over 1,000 partners since October 2012 and inevitably as the rollout commenced lessons would be learnt as implementation progressed. An indication was given of the timeline for the implementation of the various components of the Act.
Lynne Wood, Customer Service Operations Manager, Durham Tees Valley District Jobcentre Plus provided detailed information regarding Employment Support Allowance (ESA). From 31 October 2011, changes had been introduced to the way people were supported during the course of their ESA claim in response to Professor Malcolm Harrington's recommendations from the first of five annual independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment.
From 30 April 2012 the Welfare Reform Act set out that contribution based ESA (ESAA-C) would be time limited to 365 days for those in the Work Related Activity Group.
The Board was advised of the structure of the ESA. When a claimant was first awarded ESA, they received a basic rate of benefit while their capability for work was assessed. During such a period claimants did not have to take part in work-related activity but were required to provide up-to-date medical evidence known as the 'Statement of Fitness for Work' (Fit note) showing that they had limited capability for work for any claim longer than seven days. Also during the assessment phase claimants completed a self-assessment questionnaire called the ESA50 and may go to a face-to-face assessment carried out by a trained healthcare professional.
Details were given of the Work Capability Assessment which was based on assessing the way a condition limited someone's functional capability and not about assessing their condition. The completion of a Limited Capability for Work self-questionnaire during the course of a claim gave claimants the opportunity to share their views on how their health condition or disability affected their ability to perform tasks and enjoy daily living activities. An Atos Healthcare professional would carry out an initial paper check which was called a 'pre-board check' or 'scrutiny' in order to identify claimants who met the criteria for the Support Group or to determine if there was evidence that a face to face assessment was not required.
Following the assessment claimants with limited capability for work would be placed in the Work Related Activity Group.
Claimants who had Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability For Work Related Activity were placed in the Support Group and were not required to take part in work-related activity and got an additional payment (a support component) on top of the basic rate of ESA.
Most ESA claimants who wanted the extra support offered by the Work Programme would be able to get it as soon as they were placed in the Work Related Activity Group or Support Group. Most ESA-IR claimants, who were expected to be able to return to work within 12 months would be required to take part in the Work Programme and be referred by Jobcentre Plus.
It was pointed out that Jobcentre Plus managers and advisers had been given more flexibility to judge what would best help individual claimants such as referring claimants to a flexible menu of activities for extra support that would fit with one-to-one support from an adviser.
People with greater disability related barriers to work may be referred to Work Choice, if the Jobcentre Plus offer was not suitable for them. Work Choice helped people with more severe disabilities or complex needs to prepare for work and to take supported employment with the aim of progressing into unsupported employment where possible.
Reference was made to a revised sanctions regime from 3 December 2012 for ESA claimants who were in the Work Related Activity Group as part of a wider package of measures aimed at moving claimants closer to the regime planned for Universal Credit.
Bridget Lambert, Partner Support Manager, DWP, gave an overview of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) a new benefit which replaced the Disability Living Allowance from 8 April 2013. The PPI was intended to help disabled people live full, active and independent lives and was based on how a person's condition affected them not the condition they had. PIP had a three month qualifying period and nine month prospective test.
PIP would be made up of two components of daily living and mobility each of which could be paid at standard rate or enhanced rate for those with greatest needs. Entitlement would be decided based on assessment criteria which considered the ability to carry out a range of everyday activities as detailed in the presentation provided.
The PIP assessment process would be managed by two assessment providers, Atos Healthcare in respect of the North East. In response to Members' questions it was indicated that such work could be sub contracted out by Atos Healthcare.
The PIP assessment considered people as individuals, focussing on the impact their condition(s) had on their daily lives and over a range of different activities. Most people would be asked to a face-to-face consultation with a health professional as part of the assessment process but home visits would be available when necessary. The health professional would send a report to the DWP following the assessment for the DWP Case Manager to make a decision.
An indication was given of the implementation process and information as to how a PIP was claimed. From April 2013 new claims to PIP had been taken from certain areas including the North East and the new claims national rollout would be in June 2013.
A new stage built into the process involved the DWP Case Manager contacting the claimant to explain the decision made as outlined in the issued decision letter where PIP had not been awarded or where the award was lower than the DLA award in reassessment cases. From April 2013 disputes about PIP decisions came under new arrangements. The first, mandatory step, was for the decision to be reconsidered by the DWP Case Manager. If the issue was not resolved at the reconsiderations stage, there was a right to appeal which should be lodged directly with Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).
In discussing the future direction of the review Members suggested that it would be useful to gain an insight of experiences of individuals of the current arrangements.
ORDERED that all representatives be thanked for the information provided which would be incorporated into the overall review.