24 April 2007

Benefits and Work has obtained a copy of the new DLA claim pack due to be adopted nationally from 30th April 2007. Whilst the claim pack is not as claimant unfriendly as the original Bootle and Manchester pilot there are still numerous potential pitfalls and areas for concern. We alert you to some of these below, along with publishing nine sample pages from the new pack. We'll be publishing page-by-page guides to completing the new pack on physical and mental health grounds in the next few weeks.

Length of form
One of the most immediately noticeable things about the new pack is that it's bigger. In fact, it has almost 25% more pages, up from 38 to 47 pages. This is in spite of Maria Eagle, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, claiming back in 2002 that the DWP were aiming to introduce a shorter DLA claim pack in line with the shortened AA pack.

Number of small boxes
The next most noticeable thing is the fact that there are now literally hundreds of small boxes to tick, write numbers in or choose to leave blank. For example, on most pages relating to care needs you have to complete as many sets of three boxes as apply to you. The first box in each set is a tick box to say that you need help with a particular activity, then there is a box to say how often and a further box to say how long each time.

So, for washing, bathing and showering, for example there are six sets of 3 boxes covering:

help to look after my appearance or hygiene
encouraging to look after my appearance or hygiene
help to wash and dry myself
help to get in and out of the bath
help to use a shower
encouraging or reminding about washing, bathing, showering or drying

There is then a further box to say how many days a week this applies.

Below this you are asked if there is anything else you want to say about the help you need and the difficulty you have with the activity, with Yes and No tick boxes and then a six line box for further information.

As little detailed input as possible
The current form is undoubtedly an improvement on the original Bootle and Manchester pilot form. The original had a box on most pages to allow you to write about problems you had with using aids and appliances but no space for writing about how your condition affects you. The new form has a box at the bottom of most care related pages which asks:


'Is there anything else you want to tell us about the help you need or the difficulty you have with . . .

There is then a tick box for Yes with the instruction 'Tell us in the box below, and a tick box for No with the instruction 'Go to question . . .

There is thus no pressure on you to add any additional information: It would be possible to complete most of the care section of the pack simply by ticking boxes and writing numbers in boxes. From an administrative point of view this speeds up the processing of forms considerably, but it is doubtful how accurate decisions based on such scant information are likely to be.

For example, in relation to supervision during the day, you could simply tick one of the following boxes:

I may be a danger to myself or others; or
I am at risk of self-neglect;
I am at risk of self harm

and give no further details except for stating how long you can be safely left (a loaded question in itself) and for how many days a week this applies. With no details or examples of the danger you pose to others or to yourself, it would be extremely easy for your claim based on supervision needs to be rejected.

More claim pack only decisions, fewer successful appeals
An obvious solution to this potential lack of detailed evidence would be for the decision maker to collect more by phoning the claimant. However, relying on the decision maker to ask the right questions and record your answers accurately would be taking a big risk. Moreover, the DWP says that more decisions are made based on the claim pack alone under the new system: in other words the decision maker is less likely to contact you under the new system than they were under the old.

In addition, again according to the DWP, fewer appeals are lodged when the new claim pack is used and those who do appeal are less likely to be successful. We don't yet know why this is. But it may be that claimants who are lulled into believing that they can make an effective claim simply by ticking boxes and adding a few numbers are less likely to seek help from an advice agency with completing the form and thus are less likely to know where to get support for an appeal.

No epilepsy page
There is no longer a page devoted to dizzy spell, blackouts, fits, seizures'. The pages in relation to 'supervision from another person' during the day and 'someone to watch over you' at night refer to 'dizzy spells, blackouts or fits'. But there is no structured page which invites claimants to give details of the type, frequency or duration of their fits.

No mental health page
There is no longer a mental health page. The current pack has a page which invited claimants, who may have had difficulty finding the relevance of the form to their condition, to give details of the effects of their mental health condition in terms of such things as getting anxious, hearing voices and being unable to cope with changes in daily routine. The new pack offers no such opportunity.

More higher rate mobility questions
The higher rate mobility section is now much more detailed, with questions about whether your walking speed is normal, moderate, slow or very slow and whether the way you walk is normal, adequate, poor or extremely poor. It appears from the separate guidance notes that answering these questions may be optional where you have already explained how far you can walk and how long it would take. But the pack itself gives no hint of this.

More illness and disabilities questions

There is now a much more detailed table for information about which illnesses or disabilities you have, how long you've had them, what medicines have been prescribed for this illness, whether you've been taking them for more than a year and what dosage and how often you take them. This fits in with the new Customer Case Management system which relies on this type of verifiable information for DLA decision making. (see Radical new DLA claim form goes national in April 13.03.07)


For example, the length of your award will be decided on the basis of how long you have already had your condition.

More clinical information
There are now also questions about whether you are on a waiting list for surgery, the results of any tests you have had - such as peak flow or treadmill and whether you have been to a pain management clinic in the last six months. Again, this fits in with the proposed CCM system which ranks conditions as mild, moderate or severe on the basis of externally verifiable criteria.

No structure for communication needs
In stark contrast with most other sections of the form, for communication needs there are just boxes to tick to say Yes or No to whether you have communication needs and then a box taking up most of the rest of the page for you to explain your needs.

Aids and adaptations combined
Aids and adaptations all now have to be listed in a table on a single page with a tick box to say whether they have been prescribed and a very small box to explain any difficulties you have with using each aid or adaptation. Again, under the CCM system only aids and appliances which have been prescribed will be taken into account when assessing the severity of your condition.

People who help you page
There is now a page for you to give details of anyone who helps you because of your illnesses or disabilities, such as a carer, support worker, friend, neighbour or family member. The form asks for their name address and phone number, what help they give you, how often you see them and when you last saw them.

Day and night sections
The new form has 4 pages devoted to help with care needs during the night relating to: help turning over or changing position in bed; help with toilet needs; help with medication or medical treatment; someone to watch over you. This makes good sense in allowing you to clearly set out your night needs separately from your day needs, but does increase the repetitiveness and size of the form. In addition, the form still claims that night is when the household closes down in spite of at least two commissioners' decisions that night is from about 11pm to 7am.

Prepare for the future
The DWP claim that the same proportion of applicants receive awards using the new claim pack as the current one. What they don't say is whether they get awards at the same rate or whether the levels of awards have gone up or down. In addition, the DWP haven't said whether the conditions which attract awards have changed. For example, will more people with easily explained conditions, such as arthritis, get awards with the new form, whilst fewer people with less easily understood conditions such as fibromyalgia get awards?

What isn't in doubt is that the introduction of this new form brings the advent of Customer Case Management and decision making by computer very much closer. Claimants and support workers need to start thinking now about the kind of criteria that decision makers will be using in the future - such as the number of times you have seen a specialist in the last twelve months and what aids and appliances you have been prescribed - and begin taking this into account when deciding how to manage their conditions.


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