13 March 2007
Benefits and Work has been informed by a reliable source that the DWP is to introduce a radically altered DLA claim form, with a strong physical health bias and up to twice as many boxes, nationally from 30 April 2007.

The DWP have refused to confirm that this is the case, but have said that a 'communication' on the subject will be sent out in the next couple of weeks.

It is feared that the new form also heralds the introduction of computer generated decision making, with entitlement based largely on externally verifiable factors such as what medication, aids and appliances have been prescribed and the frequency of access to specialist health professionals.

Although the DWP have refused to confirm the story, they have said that a communication about new claim packs will be sent out to members of the Disability and Carers Service Advisory Forum in the next couple of weeks. The forum is made up of senior civil servants and representatives of national voluntary sector agencies such as Disability Alliance and Citizens Advice. It would be the usual place for details of a changes to be announced first, as the DWP is supposed to 'consult' with the Forum before going ahead.

Benefits and Work understands that the new form is to be based on the claim pack which was piloted in Bootle and Manchester in 2005. The Bootle pack contained over 300 boxes compared to the 157 in the standard claim pack. Many more estimates of how often claimants needed help and how long for were required. For example, in relation to washing and bathing the current pack has 9 boxes for claimants to put information in, including one set of frequency questions. The Bootle pack had 28 boxes including 6 sets of frequency questions.

The Bootle claim pack also contained a great many more questions about aids and adaptations than the current pack, with tick boxes for the use of items from monkey poles to shoe horns.

On the other hand, the free text box for the claimant to "Describe in your own words the problems you have and the help you need" which appears on most pages in the current claim pack had been almost entirely removed from the pilot pack. On the majority of pages the only free text box was for claimants to write about their use of aids and equipment. This left claimants with mental health conditions reduced to simply ticking a box on appropriate pages stating that they needed 'reminding or encouraging' to get out of bed, wash, dress, eat, etc. There was very little opportunity or encouragement to actually explain what difficulties they faced with everyday activities.

Computer says no
Whilst the Bootle pack prevented claimants giving much evidence about how their condition affected them, other than in terms of numbers, it was an approach to evidence gathering which fitted in well with the computerised Customer Case Management (CCM) system of assessing DLA claims which was also being piloted by the DWP. Under this system the decision maker answers a series of questions put to them by the computer relating to externally verifiable and quantifiable issues such as whether the claimant has been admitted to hospital in the last year and what medication, aids and adaptations have been 'prescribed' for them. Depending on the answers given, the computer decides whether the claimant has a mild, moderate or severe condition. This in turn will decide what level of award, if any, the claimant is likely to be entitled to. It is a method of assessment which produces consistent results and which the DWP have claimed will reduce the number of successful appeals, something which is now a priority for the Department.

Freedom of information
Although, using the Freedom of Information Act, Benefits and Work has obtained and published over 500 pages of text from helpscreens used in connection with the CCM decision making system, the DWP maintains that it is not in the public interest to allow us to see screenshots of how the system actually works. We will now be making a renewed request to be provided with screenshots. We will also be requesting more information about whether the CCM system has been introduced nationally.

As to whether a new claim pack is definitely to be introduced on Monday 30th April, we hope to have the answer for you by the time of the next newsletter. Meanwhile, contributions from disaffected DWP staff and others continue to be most welcome.


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