Support Allowance are gauged as qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance or ‘fit for work’.
“The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has three stages. Firstly, the Limited Capability for Work Test determines whether or not you remain on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), secondly, the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity Test determines whether you join the ‘support group’ of claimants or the ‘work-related activity group’ and thirdly, the Work Focused Health Related Assessment provides a report that can be used in any work-focused interviews that you may be required to attend later on.” (i)
WCA Survival Tips
(Some of these tips are repetitions or further defining of others. This is to add emphasis.)
1) Never answer a question without understanding what it means. (ii)
2) Wise up on the ESA eligibility ‘descriptors’. (iii)
3) From the moment you first apply for Employment & Support Allowance, consider
I. who will be best suited to accompany you to the ‘medical’ interview and
2. who to approach for evidence to back your case.
The person to accompany you will be your McKenzie Friend.(iv)
4) Realise that shame and embarrassment in relation to your condition may be the biggest barriers to your successful form completion. In the world of claiming ESA what was previously regarded as a ‘mark of shame’ often becomes a ‘badge of honour’.
5) Picture yourself on a really bad day, because otherwise the inconsistency of ‘it varies’ answers will too easily be interpreted as, “This descriptor is insignificant to this claimant’s eligibility.” Beware also of the inconsistent ordering of some of the answers in the ESA50, and recognise the relevance of minimum 24 hour working week realities to what makes your condition worse.
6) Realise that the ESA50 form content sets the scene for how you will be assessed.
7) Consider the possibility of a relevant helping professional completing the ESA50 on your behalf, but be the final arbiter on this. A relevant helping professional’s authoritative input may be especially helpful if yours is an invisibile disability or mental health condition, but if they take a rushed approach to your form’s completion while you may be inclined to attempt to avoid embarrassment in stating how bad your condition really is/can be, their input may well weaken your case..
8) Never attend the Work Capability Assessment ‘medical’ alone. This is something you must factor in when completing the ESA50.
9) Make optimum use of the ‘lead time’ from receiving the ESA50 application form to the deadline for form completion and return, bearing in mind that the ESA50 will be redirected to a different address than that given on the reply envelope before it reaches the Atos team who will be conducting your individual assessment.
10) Quote any documented evidence as much as possible in the body of the form, rather than relying on a covering letter and/or other attachments that are all too commonly ‘lost in the post’.
11) Keep copies of all your form content and documentation. Electronic copies of your form content can make editing form content easier for repeated testing situations.
12) Check out the building accessibility of the ‘Medical Examination Centre’ (MEC), realising that elevator access may not be operating at the times that the adjoining jobcentre closes. (Some MECs are open on Sundays, and when jobcentre staff go home at 4:30pm, elevator access may be denied.)
13) Realise that the ‘suggested route’ details/advice that Atos Healthcare admin issue of how to get from your home to the MEC may be unnecessarily complicated in order for you to be intimidated out of attending.
14) Don’t allow yourself to be bullied and intimidated by the inflexibility of ‘we’re only following orders’ Atos call-centre staff. In the event of your not being able to attend the MEC as a consequence of any ‘last-minute emergencies’, say, arising from the weather denying your McKenzie friend access to a car ride from home to the MEC, realise that a call to the relevant Disability Benefit Centre can trump such inflexibility. Remember, without someone to attend the medical, it will be assumed not only that you have no trouble getting to appointments alone, but also that you will be a less reliable witness than someone who can corroborate your version of what happened or did not happen at the medical.
15) Consider the ‘medical’ as more of an observation activity with you as the one being observed from the time you enter the waiting room, rather than an exhaustive and thorough medical examination.
16) Seek out, join, or form a support group for benefit claimants. This will help make your life feel more relevant between WCAs and help to counter the isolating influences of the reassessment process.
17) Keep abreast of changes to the law as it relates to your ESA entitlement.
Testing times for Raymondo
Raymondo recently underwent his third Work Capability Assessment. When he first applied for ESA he had been awarded 0 eligibility points at the medical three months after the ESA50 form completion. That 0 eligibility points score was turned into 21 eligibility points at the tribunal that he later attended with an advocate from a local disability charity, and the tribunal panel also placed him in the Support Group, ensuring no ‘back to work’ sanctions and such bullying, but not exempting him from the stressful experience of being systematically retested. It took the Disability Benefits Centre’s Assessments & Appeals Section of Department for Work & Pensions two months to wade through the ‘sandbags’ of correspondence to get to his tribunal outcome and pay the back money he was owed, and yet just six months after getting the back money, he was summonsed to re-apply for ESA, with six weeks before the deadline for receipt of the ESA50 application form. Diligent devotion to getting the form content as strongly in his favour as possible, and attending with a McKenzie Friend that he had become well-acquainted with in the intervening period helped ensure that he secured Support Group status for the second time. But his third WCA was conducted under a revised ‘simplified’ test that allowed fewer point scoring options toward the eligibility threshold of 15 points awarded him by the tribunal.
The newer test had been proposed by the last Labour DWP Secretary Yvette Cooper as more and more people won their tribunals in order to get what was rightfully theirs. (v) So the then DWP Secretary who is now Labour’s Equalities Spokesperson decided that the law needed to be changed. (Atos and its staff seem to be above the law, but tribunal panels have to abide by it.) The ESA tribunal panel consisting of judge and doctor had awarded Raymondo 15 of his eligibility points on account of the time it takes him to execute tasks. The ‘simplified’ WCA has completely removed that relevant descriptor which has been a major bugbear of Raymondo’s ‘working life’. So how did he manage to overcome that difficulty?
“All of the above tips have helped me since I won my tribunal,” says Raymondo. “This most recent time though, there was the additional factor of the destruction of a mainstay descriptor and the potentially additionally isolating factor of stigmatisation.” But Raymondo’s preparation this time around was increased.
With enhanced relationship with a legally qualified advocate and disability rights activist who he first contacted as a friend of a friend, he felt less embarrassed about ‘telling it like it is’ than he did when originally going through the form in an interview with a vocational support adviser with whom he lacked a true rapport and who was too blasé and ignorant about the nuances of ESA compared to Incapacity Benefit. Getting it out as an electronic document in his own time helped enormously for shaping the document to text boxes for copying and pasting onto the actual form. And his anticipation of the changes brought in by the revised test cued him to take a real diagnostic battery of tests with Camden Learning Disability Services before undergoing his third WCA. The report from that test helped explain and outline how, say, slow mental processing speed made him more inclined to experience ‘information overload’ and accident proneness in real world work situations. He also emphasised that as a genuine jobseeker from November 1977 till early 2009 he only acuired only 17 MONTHS total waged employment, 11 months of which had been for less than ten hours per week.
Now a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group that meets 40 minutes bus ride away, Raymondo realises that while he is still very poor and has extremely limited career prospects in his 59th year, he has much to contribute to helping make the world a fairer place, and has been helped to feel more human through being a member of that group. “Those like Liz Sayce of Radar who talk of ‘integration of disabled people into the workforce’ as they smash Remploy communities with factory closures get paid for giving government-for-market-forces-by-market-forces what it wants. ‘State-subsidised’ Remploy factories are more sustainable and sustaining than transporting sweat shop produce around the globe from China where 600,000 die per year from intolerable working conditions that operate under the name of ‘competitiveness’.
“I might not get paid as much for helping people to the truth, but being a member of Kilburn Unemployment Workers Group and Social Work Action Network London activist gives me a greater sense of purpose while making new friends.”
NOTES AND SOURCES
(ii) Dorothy Leeds (1998) Secrets of Successful Interviews. The fact that the vast majority of ESA claimants who win their tribunals do so with advocacy support indicates that those without advocacy are not sufficiently resourced with the relevant information and interpretative guidance.
(iii) Beyond a Yahoo! Search for “ESA descriptor points”, you might consider subscribing to the services provided by Benefits & Work Publishing. A year’s individual person subscription to Benefits & Work Publishing costs currently less than £20 per year and allows you unlimited access to their guides written by legal professionals into how the ESA descriptors might be interpreted.