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30 October 2009

A private sector provider alleges that claimants risk losing their employment and support allowance (ESA) as a result of diligently taking part in the Pathways to Work programme.  They also claim that delays in medical assessments are causing ‘confusion and distress to claimants’, with some terminally ill people being forced to attend work-focused interviews, and are hitting the private sector’s profits.

Work Directions is a multinational private sector company running welfare to work programmes in the UK, France, Sweden and Germany.

In evidence put before the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into decision making and appeals, they complained bitterly about the high number of claimants who are having to attend work-focused interviews before they have had their work capability assessment (WCA).

The WCA is the medical test used to decide whether claimants are eligible for (ESA) and, if so, whether they should be placed in the support group or the work-related activity group.

Claimants should have their WCA after around six weeks of the 14 week long ESA assessment phase.  The medical should take place before any work-focused interviews, not least because people with the most serious conditions are eligible for the support group and should not have to attend any work-focused interviews at all.

Yet Work Directions allege that some claimants:

“ . . . are expected to attend mandatory interviews despite the fact they may be undergoing treatment or be terminally ill.  This causes great distress to the individuals concerned and their families.”

Moreover, Work Directions reveal that after 28 weeks an astonishing 50% of all their clients have yet to be told whether they are eligible for ESA.  Most of these claimants will have completed at least three work-focused interviews.

In one of their offices, no fewer than 50% of all those who started having interviews with the company failed their WCA and left the Pathways programme.  Some had actually completed all six interviews before discovering that they had been found fit for work.

According to Work Directions:

“For the clients who 'fail' the WCA, this can lead to a sense that they have been 'penalised for trying'. As a result of engaging with the programme, improving their ability to manage their health condition, and by considering moving into work their claim for ESA is refused and their access to support through Pathways to Work is denied.”

In other words, if you do not have your WCA at the correct time. then enthusiastically engaging with your Pathways to Work personal assistant may be used against you to prevent you getting ESA and deny you any further support from your Pathways adviser.

Work Directions complain that as well as being bad news for claimants, the delays are bad news for them.  70% of the money they receive from the DWP is only paid once they get a claimant into work.  If the claimant is found fit for work and forced onto JSA, private and voluntary sector Pathways providers get only 30% of the bounty they were hoping for. 

Work Directions complain that:

“It is costly for providers to invest in support for clients who have joined the programme and engaged with it before their eligibility for the benefit and the programme has been determined. These costs were not included in financial modelling undertaken by providers for Pathways to Work.”

The message from Work Directions seems to be that, until you have had your work capability assessment, you engage fully in the Pathways programme at the risk of losing your benefits and their profits.

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