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Your chances of getting ESA – the secret’s out

14 October 2009

The DWP have released statistics showing how many people have successfully claimed ESA.  However, the figures may not be as bad as the DWP are trying to make them appear.

The figures in the DWP press release are based on almost 194,000 people who claimed ESA between October 2008 and February 2009. According to the DWP:

5% made it into the support group – only half the number that the DWP claimed would be eligible when ESA was introduced.

11% were awarded ESA with a work-related activity component, i.e. placed in the work-related activity group and obliged to attend work-focused interviews.

38% stopped claiming before the work capability assessment had been completed – presumably these were mostly people with short-term illnesses. 

36% were found fit for work and refused any award of ESA.  This compares with 17% who were found fit for work under the personal capability assessment for incapacity benefit. 

10% still hadn’t been assessed by the time the statistics were compiled.

The DWP’s press release claims that the statistics show that the work capability assessment is “stopping more people getting trapped on long-term sickness benefit”.

However, a closer inspection of the statistics actually published by the DWP’s statistics section, rather than those chosen for the press release, reveals a slightly less awful, though still bleak, picture.

189,000 people were actually assessed using the work capability assessment between October 2008 and August 2009.  Of these, (in rounded figures):

10% were placed in the support group
22% were placed in the work-related activity group
69% were found fit for work

In other words, if you actually have an assessment, rather than getting better before the assessment takes place, you have a roughly one in three chance of getting an award of ESA at all and a one in ten chance of making it into the support group.

These figures are based on Atos results, not on decision makers’ decisions.  The DWP expects that the actual number of claimants found eligible for ESA will increase by a ‘small’ amount once final decisions by decision makers are taken into account.

In addition, around 3% of decisions were made clerically and are not included in these statistics.  It’s possible that the majority of these were decisions to allow benefit, as a decision that someone is fit for work could only be made following a medical examination, not on the papers alone.

Perhaps the most worrying figure of all, however, is that only 31% of the 5,000 claimants whose appeals against a WCA decision have so far been heard won their appeal.  This is considerably lower than the success rate in regard to the PCA.  However, we don’t have any information yet on how many of these were paper, rather than oral, hearings.  The success rate at oral hearings is usually much higher than for paper hearings.  In addition, there are no figures available for how many decisions were changed at reconsideration stage, prior to any appeal being heard.

It’s also very likely that the success rate for existing incapacity benefit claimants migrated onto ESA will be much higher than the success rate for new claimants applying for ESA.  This is because many new ESA applicants would also have failed the personal capability assessment if that were still in use for new claims, because their condition is not sufficiently severe. The general level of impairment amongst current incapacity benefit claimants, on the other hand, will be much higher than the general level of impairment amongst claimants in the assessment phase of ESA.

So, the tales of 90% of claimants failing to get an award of ESA appear to be entirely untrue.  Around 70% who are actually assessed are failing, however, and perhaps as few as a third who appeal will get the decision overturned – that’s probably bad enough news to be going on with.