Mike Penning, minister for disabled people, finally admitted in the WOW debate yesterday that the DWP have suspended the sending of employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants to Atos for repeat medical assessments, as Benefits and Work revealed on Monday.  He also did not deny the two year length of the suspension for those affected, which we disclosed on Wednesday. {jcomments on}

On Monday we broke the news that the DWP have told staff that due to a growing backlog at Atos all current ESA claimants who have not already been referred to Atos will be left on the benefit, without further medical checks, until another company can be found to do repeat work capability assessments (WCAs).  On Wednesday, following contact from a DWP insider, we also revealed that claimants due to be referred to Atos were being given a two year repreive.

Until yesterday, however, neither the government nor the DWP would confirm this information. But in the WOW debate yesterday, Kate Green MP asked Penning point blank about the issue [column 472] :

“My point is on the WCA, and I hope that the Minister will address the question that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) raised about the suspension of reassessment of ESA claimants for the next two years. Will he tell us why the Department appears to have decided not to inform claimants or Members of Parliament about that?”

Penning responded:

“If we were to inform claimants and Members of Parliament about the minutiae of every single change in policy, we would be here a lot longer. As most Members know, I am not hugely party political, but I must point out that the previous Administration did not offer that level of information either. That is not how Governments work. We are trying to deal with the delays, and to ensure that people get what they are entitled to as quickly as possible and that nobody will be worse off while we are doing that. We are, however, in the middle of a really difficult negotiation with Atos over the WCA.”

Penning’s response is a welcome, but grudgingly given, confirmation of the news broken on Monday by Benefits and Work. However, it also displays his extraordinary lack of understanding of what it is like to be a sick or disabled claimant dreading the post arriving every day, for fear it will include a summons to an Atos medical. To actually know when your medical is likely to happen is not ‘minutiae’, it is a matter of enormous importance.

The suspension of referrals does not, unfortunately, affect claimants who have already been referred to Atos by the DWP. As Atos made clear on their website yesterday, having been inundated with calls about this issue:

“Any WCA repeat referrals that we have already received from DWP will also continue through the WCA process as they would before.

“You can normally tell that this process has started because you receive a Limited Capability for Work questionnaire, or ESA50. You should still return forms, supply additional evidence or attend appointments for a face to face assessment as necessary.”


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