The DWP has refused to let Benefits and Work see Long-Covid guidance issued to PIP and WCA assessors on the grounds that it would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs” and may not be in the public interest.
Back in May we reported that the DWP had issued guidance to DLA decision makers on how to deal with awards for Long Covid in children, but that no similar guidance had been published on assessing Long Covid for awards of PIP, ESA or UC.
As a result we made a Freedom of Information request to the DWP for the guidance.
However, the DWP have refused to meet the statutory time-limit for a response, instead giving themselves an extra month before they reply.
Their excuse is that the request is, in their view, covered by a specific exemption: Section 36. Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs.
The DWP say it has “not yet reached a decision on the balance of the public interest. Due to the need to consider, in all the circumstances of the case, where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to the information that you have requested, the Department will not be able to respond to your request in full within 20 working days.”
The DWP say they will now respond to our request by 22 July.
Many readers will be wondering, as we are, why the DWP was happy to publish guidance on this subject in relation to children, only a tiny proportion of whom have so far been affected, but withhold it for adults.
As always, there is a good chance it is about cost. A recent study by React estimated that up to 2 million adults in the UK may have had symptoms of Covid for more than 12 weeks, the current criteria for Long Covid.
Whilst for some people the symptoms may not be very serious, in others breathlessness and fatigue can be extremely debilitating.
The health secretary at the time of the report’s release, Matt Hancock, said:
“Long Covid can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected. Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are using these findings and other new research to develop support and treatments.”
Unfortunately, it is not clear at the moment to what degree this support includes the payment of benefits.
We’ll keep readers informed when we get any further response from the DWP.