Claimants have been left in a state of deep uncertainty over the government’s response to the work capability assessment (WCA) consultation. In particular, they want to know what is happening to reassessments for claimants in the support group for employment and support allowance (ESA) or who have limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) for universal credit (UC).
The government’s response document gives contradictory messages about whether reassessments for this group, who we will call the LCWRA group to include both ESA and UC, have already ended or whether they will not end until 2025.
The government’s proposals introduce something called the Chance to Work Guarantee.
The Chance to Work Guarantee “is for existing claimants on UC and ESA with LCWRA. This change will be effective from 2025, at the same time as WCA changes are introduced. This change will in effect abolish the WCA for the vast majority of this group, bringing forward a key element of our White Paper proposals and giving people the confidence to try work.”
The meaning of this paragraph seems clear: the abolition of the WCA for existing LCWRA claimants will take place in 2025.
However, in the next paragraph the government states:
“These changes will mean that almost all people who are currently assessed as having LCWRA will never face a WCA reassessment again. Reassessments will only take place under very limited circumstances, which are:
- When a claimant reports a change of circumstances in their health condition;
- If a claimant has been awarded LCWRA for pregnancy risk, or cancer treatment where the prognosis for recovery is expected to be short-term;
- If a claimant has been declared as having LCWRA under the new risk provisions; and
- In cases of suspected fraud.”
The phrase “currently assessed as having LCWRA” suggests that almost all current claimants are now safe from reassessment.
Is this simply because there are very few WCA reassessments taking place, so almost all current claimants will not be reassessed anyway?
Or because a firm decision has been made to end reassessments immediately for people with LCWRA?
At the end of the response document, readers are told:
"Changes to the WCA activities and descriptors will be implemented nationally, no earlier than 2025.
"We want claimants who have already been assessed as having LCWRA to be able to engage with support to move towards work without the fear of reassessment. We have committed to ensuring no one currently assessed as having LCWRA will face a WCA reassessment, save in some exceptional circumstances. This will in effect abolish the WCA for this group, bringing forward a key element of our Health and Disability White Paper proposals and give people the confidence to try work."
The phrase “no one currently assessed as having LCWRA will face a WCA reassessment” seems unambiguous in saying that the WCA has already ended for claimants with LCWRA and it is just changes to the activities and descriptors which will have to wait until 2025.
We wish that we could tell readers categorically what the right answer is. But the truth is that we don’t know, although we are making strenuous efforts to find out.
There are some of our readers’ questions that we can answer, however.
One suspicion that was raised repeatedly when we covered the chancellor’s Autumn statement was that all current LCWRA claimants would be reviewed before 2025 and most would be pushed into the LCW group in advance of the changes.
We can say with some certainty that this won’t happen.
For one thing, there is virtually no possibility of Maximus being able to recruit, train and deploy the vast number of new health professionals that would be needed to reassess everyone who currently has LCWRA between now and 2025.
In addition, figures from December 2022 show that the percentage of DWP decisions for repeat WCAs was:
- 83% of outcomes for Support Group
- 13% of outcomes were for Work Related Activity Group
- 4% of outcomes were found Fit for Work
So, even if the DWP were to reassess all LCWRA claimants before the reformed WCA was introduced, the vast majority would remain in the LCWRA group. And any appeals would be heard under the rules that applied at the time of the decision, even if the hearing took place when the reformed rules were in place.
Compulsory Chance to Work Guarantee
Another concern that a number of readers raised was that the Chance to Work Guarantee would make it compulsory for existing claimants with LCWRA to try work or work preparation.
This seems extraordinarily unlikely and would undoubtedly require further changes to the law.
Even under the new proposals the government recognises that there are some claimants for whom any move towards work would be potentially seriously harmful. A mandatory requirement to try work for current LCWRA claimants would be too dangerous for any administration to consider.
The reality is that if this change comes about, whether it applies now or in 2025, the vast majority of current LCWRA claimants will never have another reassessment because so few are being carried out.
But that does nothing to take away the fear for individual claimants who might be one of the unlucky ones if reassessments are continuing.
We will continue to try to get clarification.
But, in the meantime, we would advise readers to assume that reassessments are to continue until 2025 and that trying out work whilst in the LCWRA group could have serious consequences for your future benefit entitlement.
And if anyone who currently has LCWRA is selected for reassessment over the coming weeks, please let us know.