The number of work capability repeat assessments (WCAs) has risen to its highest ever level and now outnumbers assessments for fresh claims, the latest DWP statistics show. This is in spite of a promise made by the government last year “stop reassessing people with the most severe health conditions and disabilities”.
Back in 2014, Benefits and Work broke the news that all repeat WCA medical referrals to Atos were to be stopped until further notice, due to a massive backlog of cases.
We can now reveal that the number of repeat assessments has been rising rapidly since they were reintroduced in December 2015.
In the quarter to March 2017, the most recent for which figures exist, there were 154,200 repeat WCAs. This is more than double the number carried out in the same period last year, which stood at 72,000.
It means that, in the most recent quarter, 54% of all WCAs were repeat assessments as opposed to 42% which were initial claims.
Astonishingly, 4% of cases were transfers from incapacity benefit to ESA – a process that should have ended years ago.
The DWP say that:
“ESA repeat assessment volumes have increased in recent quarters as processing was re-introduced in December 2015, after almost two years of focussing on initial assessments.”
The proportion of ESA reassessment claimants going into the support group remains high, at 60%. But this is still considerably lower than in 2015, when 70%-80% of repeat assessments resulted in support group entry.
20% of repeat assessment claimants were placed in the work-related activity group and 21% were found to be fit for work.
In October 2016 work and pensions secretary Damian Green told MPs:
“ . . . we will stop reassessing people with the most severe health conditions and disabilities. This change will apply to people who have already been placed in the ESA Support Group or UC Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity categories following a WCA and who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities (defined as claimants with severe, lifelong, often progressive and incurable conditions, with minimally fluctuating care needs, who are unlikely to ever be able to move closer to the labour market and into work).”
Green went on to say that the IT changes needed for the new system would be completed by the end of 2017, but:
“In the meantime, we will be working to ensure these people are not reassessed unnecessarily.”
The latest figures suggest that the exact opposite is happening.