The number of disabled people appealing against a decision to refuse their claim for the new out-of-work disability benefit has rocketed over the last year.
New figures released by the Tribunals Service show that in the first quarter of 2009-10 there were about 10,000 employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals.
By the second quarter of the year, this had leaped to 29,000, with a further steep increase to 41,000 in the third quarter, and up again to more than 46,000 in the first three months of 2010.
The figures also show that nearly two-fifths of ESA appeals that were completed at a hearing last year were successful.
ESA replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants in October 2008, with those claiming the benefit being subjected to the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
So far, 69 per cent of those who complete the assessment have been found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, far higher than the Labour government’s prediction of 49 per cent.
In March, a report by Citizens Advice said “high numbers” of “seriously ill and disabled people” had been found “fit for work” after taking the assessment.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said the number of appeals had increased because ESA was a new benefit and there were long “time lapses” in the application process, including a 13-week assessment phase and the length of time Jobcentre Plus has to submit an appeal to the Tribunals Service.
She said that, although ESA started in October 2008, there were not significant numbers of appeals until March 2010, while appeals were “now in a relatively steady state”.
But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the change to ESA “has not been communicated well”, so many people were appealing because they did not understand why their claim had been turned down.
This has added to the problems with the WCA, which was “not doing the job it was intended to do” and was “undermining the changes to the welfare reform system”.
He added: “There really is an imperative to get the assessment right first time and ensure communication is done well, so we avoid unnecessary expenditure [on appeals]at a time when all government departments are being squeezed so significantly.”
8 July 2010