9 August 2004

The DWP has unveiled its latest attempt at a reformed DLA claim system, to be piloted in Glasgow from 6 September 2004. Under the new system, the "interactive" telephone claiming process has - at least temporarily - been dropped and some of the prompts to help complete the pack have been reintroduced. However, the explanatory notes have doubled in size, repeated cross-referencing between the notes and the claim form is required, the space for claimants to give evidence about their condition has been reduced and the "Statement from the person who knows you best" has been removed altogether.

ET teamwork
The latest claim pack was presented to disability organisations on 5th August in a day long event in a Glasgow hotel. In a sign of the increasingly commercial leanings of the DWP, instead of 'workshops', the training day involved a series of 'Marketplaces', such as the E claiming Marketplace from the Early Transformation Team. Copies of the new pack were distributed in glossy wallets bearing the, cruelly ironic, motto "A customer focused approach to improving DLA claim forms". Bizarrely, the wallet features a photo of what appears to be two school or college students (one with a badge, the visible portion of which reads "Lords House Education . . .") poring over a large pile of papers and ring binders.

The claim pack is to be presented to welfare rights workers in Glasgow at a similar series of meetings from 16th August.

Main changes
The latest short form is undoubtedly an improvement on the previous attempts in London and Glasgow. However, the only reason it's an improvement is that it has reintroduced some of the prompts, particularly for people with mental health conditions, which feature in the standard claim pack. Unfortunately, the result of the reintroduction of these prompts is that, in order to keep the claim pack down to 23 pages, the size of the box for the claimant to explain all their daytime attention and supervision needs is now even smaller than in the London trial pack, at around half an A4 page.

In addition, the "Statement from the person who knows you best" has now been completely removed from the pack, without any explanation. Claimants very often got their GP or their main carer to complete this page, which at least allowed for a small amount of corroborating information to be included with the claim pack. With its removal, the DWP now have even more control over the evidence gathering process: they decide from whom evidence is collected and what form it takes.

Shorter means harder
The new short form is 23 pages long, compared with the 42 pages of the standard claim form. However, the explanatory notes, which bear the legend "Please read these notes first. They tell you what you need to know about filling in the claim form" are now 16 pages long, compared to the 8 pages (including special rules) of the standard pack.

In fact, some of the information about completing the form which previously featured in the claim pack has now been moved into the explanatory notes instead. This means that when a claimant fills in the new pack, instead of having all the information they need on the page in front of them, on no fewer than four occasions (excluding special rules) they are told to refer back to pages of the 'Notes about claiming Disability Living Allowance'. (So that's what those students were doing: learning how to cross-reference so they could one day cope with completing the new customer focused DLA claim pack).

This sleight of hand means the DWP can continue to claim that the pack has been almost halved in size, from 42 pages to 23 pages. The reality is that the entire pack, with explanatory notes, has been reduced from 50 pages to 39 pages, a reduction in pages of just over one fifth. With, quite possibly, an even smaller reduction in the number of words in the text.

Dodgy old caselaw
In spite of the fact that this is a new claim pack, nobody seems to have checked whether the law has changed since November 2002 when the previous pilot pack was produced. The explanatory notes tell claimants that night is "when you are in bed and the household has closed down for the night". In fact, there have been two recent commissioners' decisions (CDLA/3242/03 dated 2.12.03 and CSA/322/03 dated 13.02.04) which overturn this definition. Instead, the commissioners have held that the routine of the household is only of marginal relevance to deciding when night begins and that "a reasonably average household might consider night to be from about 11.00 pm to about 7.00 am".

For someone whose disability means that they stay up until the small hours, perhaps because of pain or anxiety about going to bed, and who then need help going to bed, the change of definition is crucial. This is because the help with going to bed should now be considered a night time need, and at night you only need to show a requirement for 20 minutes attention in order to receive middle rate care, rather than having to show an hour's attention to qualify for only the lower rate in connection with daytime needs. Where the claimant puts the information about help with going to bed, in the daytime or night time box, may make a considerable difference to the award they receive.

See that dot in the corner?
The DLA pilots are a depressing example of central government saying one thing whilst doing the opposite. The DWP say that they are creating a 'customer focused' DLA claims system, whilst with every new version of the claim pack the space for the customer to actually explain the effects of their condition is reduced. And now the opportunity for the customer to provide supporting evidence with the pack has been removed altogether. At the same time the length of the background notes the customer is advised to read and the amount of cross-referencing the customer is expected to do has greatly increased. Combine this with the results from the current Glasgow pilot (See: Bogof! Old IB medicals reused for new DLA decisions. 29 July 2004) which show that the DWP is increasingly basing DLA decisions on out-of-date computer generated incapacity for work medical reports and the real truth becomes evident. With the assistance of expensive private sector consultants, such as BT Syntegra, the DWP are pushing DLA claimants almost entirely out of the picture.


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