Details of the new universal credit (UC) health element were set out in the Health and Disability White Paper published on 15 March 2023.

What is changing?

The work capability assessment is being abolished. 

Instead there will be just one assessment, the PIP assessment which will decide if you are eligible for PIP and also if you are eligible for the new UC health element.

What is the UC health element?

The UC health element is the payment that will replace the current limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) element of UC.

To be eligible for the UC health element you will need to be getting the UC standard allowance and any element of PIP.

When is the UC health element being introduced?

The new system will be rolled out, to new claims only, on a staged, geographical basis from no earlier than 2026/27.

The new claims roll-out is expected be completed within three years, by 2029 a at the earliest.  After that, existing UC claimants will be moved on to the new system.

How long can you get the UC health element?

You will stop being entitled to the UC health element if your health condition improves to the degree that you are no longer eligible for PIP or as you earn more money and your UC is tapered away.

How much will the UC health element be?

The new UC health element will be paid at the same level as the current LCWRA element.

What about people who don’t get PIP but have a serious health condition?

There will be protection for people who are currently treated as LCWRA due to pregnancy risk or because they are about to receive, receiving or recovering from treatment for cancer by way of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. 

They will get the new UC health element even if they do not get PIP.

Will there be transitional protection for existing UC claimants who don’t get PIP?

If you get the LCWRA element but you don’t also get PIP at the point that you move to the new system you will receive transitional protection.

Transitional protection is a top-up so that you don’t immediately lose out because of the introduction of the new UC health element. But this will erode over time with increases in UC elements and will also stop with certain changes of circumstances.

Can I be forced to do any work-related activities if I get the UC health element?

Yes you can.

If you are receiving the UC health element you may be set both voluntary and mandatory work-related requirements by a work coach and you will be subject to sanctions if you don’t meet the mandatory requirements.

The DWP say they will introduce new “more personalised levels of conditionality and employment support, with the aim of helping people to reach their potential and live a more independent life”.#

I’m currently on income-related ESA, what will happen when I get migrated to UC?

If you are migrated before the UC health element is introduced, possibly in 2026, then you should be put in the equivalent group in UC, either limited capability for work or for work-related activity. Between 2026 and 2029, only new claims will be subject to the new system. We think it is very likely, though we can’t be certain at this stage, that you will be treated as an existing claimant and placed in the limited capability for work or for work-related activity group rather than being considered for the UC health element.

What will happen to people on contribution-based ESA?

This is one of the issues the DWP haven’t worked out yet. All the white paper has to say on the issue is: “We remain committed to retaining a health and sickness contributory benefit in the future system”.

 What about claimants in Scotland?

The white paper says these proposals will “not apply to Scottish benefits”. This is because Scotland has begun replacing PIP with adult disability payment (ADP) and is already consulting on changing the mobility element of ADP, which will mean ADP eligibility rules will begin to be different to PIP. So, at the moment, the DWP haven’t worked out what they will do about Scotland. It’s one of the areas in which this does not seem to be a fully thought out proposal.

What are people’s biggest concerns about the abolition of the WCA?

This is too big a question to answer here. It includes concerns that:

Nobody will be found to be incapable of work

Decisions about levels of capability will be made by non-medically qualified work coaches

There is no appeal against work coach decisions

There is no substantial risk rule

People with shorter-term conditions will not be eligible for the UC health element

Trying work may seem even more risky under these rules

You can read more about all of these issues in this news article.

Is it time to panic?

Absolutely, definitely not. There is a real possibility these proposals will never happen, or that they will be changed so much that they will scarcely be recognisable by the time they do come into force. The White Paper says:

“The degree of change in our proposals will require primary legislation, which we would aim to take forward in a new Parliament when parliamentary time allows.”

New sessions of parliament generally start in May.

There is definitely not time to consult on the changes, draft new legislation and carry out impact assessments before May 2023. It seems fairly unlikely that it will even be done before May 2024.

Parliament has to dissolve not later than 17 December 2024 for the next general election, which may well happen sooner.

So, there’s a real possibility that the current government will not be able to introduce these changes.

If that is the case, then it will depend on who wins the next election whether they ever happen.

Even if they the legislation is passed before the election, the new changes are not due to be rolled out before 2026 for new claimants and 2029 for existing claimants. And it is extremely common for the DWP to run years late on major projects.

So, the UC health element will not happen for years yet, if at all.

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