Victory for welfare campaigners as government loses appeal against benefits ruling

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Posted on 04/12/2013

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling which found that the process used to decide whether hundreds of thousands of people are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling which found that the process used to decide whether hundreds of thousands of people are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

The original judgment, which was made public at an Upper Tribunal hearing in May this year, was the result of a Judicial Review brought by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) immediately appealed against the judgment and the Judicial Review was put on hold. Now that the DWP has lost their appeal, the Judicial Review will continue. A final judgment is expected next year unless the DWP decide to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The charities Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness intervened in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of their members and supporters.

The case centres on how evidence is gathered for the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the process used to determine whether someone is fit for work.

Under the current system, evidence from a professional such as a GP or social worker is expected to be provided by claimants themselves. There is no obligation for the DWP to collect this evidence, even on behalf of the most vulnerable, apart from in some rare cases.

Gathering evidence can be very challenging for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism whose health or condition can make it hard for them to understand or navigate the complex processes involved in being assessed.

As a result, those who need support the most are frequently being assessed without this important evidence being taken into account.

In May it was ruled that the DWP must do more to ensure this sort of evidence is collected and taken into account. This means the current procedure for the WCA puts some groups at a substantial disadvantage.

In a joint statement Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness said:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for welfare campaigners and marks an important step in our fight for a fairer benefits system.

“The judges in the original ruling independently confirmed what our members and supporters have been saying for years – the system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and is failingthe very people it is meant to be supporting.

“It’s fantastic that the Court of Appeal has upheld this judgment and we hope changes will be made quickly to ensure the system becomes fairer and more accurate.

“In light of today’s ruling it would be irresponsible for the DWP to carry on using these flawed assessments as they are. They must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving incapacity benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.

“We hope that the DWP will now take these concerns seriously and look to address the problems with the system rather than appealing again.”  

Read the full judgment here (PDF).

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