12 January 2011
In yet another broken promise by the DWP, linking rules which allow incapacity benefit (IB) claimants to return to their previous rate of benefits if they try work and have to stop again on health grounds are to be scrapped from 31 January.
From that date onwards any former IB claimant who stops work will no longer be able to take advantage of the 104 week linking rules and will, instead, have to make a fresh claim for employment and support allowance. They will be eligible only for the assessment rate for the first 13 weeks of their claim, a lower amount than they would have been entitled to if they had been covered by the linking rules, as they were promised they would be at the time they started work.
Revelation of the broken promise has come as an unwelcome surprise to many agencies working with claimants, including RNIB.
An RNIB representative contacted the DWP after reading about the issue on the Benefits and Work forums, pointing out this apparent flaw in the ESA transitional provisions regulations. However, the response from the DWP makes it clear the broken promise to people willing to take the risk of trying out work was intentional:
“The change will apply to all new claims - (to address your specific point, this includes claims from those customers who may still be in the 104 week welfare to work linking period from their previous award) - and will also apply to advance claims made before this date but in respect of a period on or after this date.
“31 January 2011 is therefore a key date. Before this date, the existing linking rules will continue to apply, so a former incapacity benefit recipient who puts in an incapacity claim before this date (and in respect of a period before this date) which links back to a previous award will go back onto their previous incapacity benefit, and will fall to be reassessed (with a view to conversion to ESA) in the fullness of time, acquiring transitional protection, where appropriate. Whereas all claims for an incapacity benefit made on or after this date (or advance claims made before this date but in respect of a period on or after this date) will be treated as new claims to ESA (even if they would otherwise have linked back to the previous incapacity benefit award), and will therefore fall outside of the scope of the reassessment exercise, and get no transitional protection.
“I hope you find this reply helpful (if disappointing)."
For current IB claimants waiting to be reassessed using the work capability assessment over the next three years, this means they must consider even more carefully than before whether an attempt to return to paid work is feasible. They will have to include in their decision making the fact that, unlike new ESA claimants or IB claimants in the past, there will be no linking rules to protect them if their health condition prevents them holding down their new employment.
For former IB claimants now in work and believing that they are protected by the linking rules, after 31 January this will be just yet another broken promise by a hostile Coalition government.
You can read more of the response from the DWP in the Benefits and Work discussion forum.