11 June 2009
Everybody on incapacity benefit is being retested according to the former secretary of state for work and pensions, who also claimed that the gateway to the benefit has now been tightened.
Purnell made the claim last month in answer to an oral question by conservative MP Philip Davies about the best way to get incapacity claimants back into work. James Purnell responded that:
‘It is very important for us to provide people with help to get back into work, and to improve the incentives for getting back into work. That is why we are re-testing everybody on incapacity benefit to make sure that they are on the right benefit. That is why we have tightened the gateway to make sure that only the right people get on to the benefit, and that is why we will require everybody for whom it is appropriate to have back-to-work support.’
At first glance this may seem to be an example of ministerial smoke and mirrors because everybody on incapacity benefit has always been ‘retested’, no-one gets it for life.
But the minister’s response would explain an issue that has been repeatedly cropping up on disability and welfare rights forums for more than a year: the DWP’s refusal to follow the proper procedure in relation to people who are, or may be, exempt from the personal capability assessment.
In the past, and according to current procedure, when there is evidence that a claimant may be exempt from the PCA because of, for example, a severe mental health condition, an IB113 form is sent to their GP.
This form asks for details of the claimant’s condition and very often, on the basis of that information, the claimant is found to be exempt. This means that they do not have to complete an IB50 questionnaire or attend a medical in order to be found incapable of work. In effect, they do not have to be ‘tested’.
However, the DWP now seems very reluctant to send out IB113 forms and is, instead, insisting that claimants who have previously been exempt fill out an IB50 questionnaire and very often attend a medical as well. Because sending an IB113 form is not a legal requirement it is very difficult for claimants to stand up to what is a clear abuse of the exemption system by the DWP.
No change of policy about how people who may be exempt are dealt with has ever been announced. But Purnell’s references to everyone being retested and a tightening of the gateway suggests that such a change may have taken place behind the scenes.
Benefits and Work is now making a Freedom of information request to try to discover what is really going on.