esaChanges to the work capability assessment (WCA) which came into force yesterday are set to cause massive confusion for claimants and lead to even more wrong decisions being made.  Many claimants will be left not even knowing which version of the new test applies to them.

The problems arise because some of the changes apply immediately, whilst others will only apply to people who are sent a  new version of the ESA50 questionnaire to complete – or to people who fill in the old form but are left waiting until after 28 July for a decision in their case.

Changes that affect all claims decided on or after 28th January 2013 include changes relating to:

the rules about claimants receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for cancer – it will now be easier for these claimants to get into the support group;

the substantial risk rules – any reasonable adjustments that could be made by employers to reduce the risk and the potentially helpful effects of any prescribed medication the claimant fails to take can now be considered;

the rules relating to aids and appliances – those that the claimant could reasonably be expected to use will be taken into account, not just ones that the claimant normally uses;

there is now a stipulation that only a claimant with a physical condition can satisfy the physical descriptors and only a claimant with a mental health condition can satisfy the mental descriptors, this also applies to the effects of medication. (Please note:  we’ve now added a few paragraphs about possible challenges to these rules in both the new guides since they were first published on Monday.  You’ll find them under ‘Physical health only’ and ‘mental health only’).

There are then additional changes which affect claimants who get the new ESA50 questionnaire and also apply to all decisions made on or after July 28th 2013 onwards, regardless of which form was completed. These involve alterations to the wording of the seven physical activities and one mental health activity and are mirrored in changes to the support group descriptors.

To add to the confusion it appears that DWP offices may continue sending out old ESA50 forms until stocks run out, meaning that which test you are assessed under may depend on how big the cupboards are in your local office.

Benefits and Work have now produced guides to the new test as it applies to people who completed the old form but have an initial decision on their claim made between 28 January and 27 July.  We’ll have a guide to the new ESA50 form available on the site by the end of next week.

The new ESA50 form is available to download from the website, but beware – it isn’t working properly:  tick boxes are missing and there are problems with saving it.  It’s likely to be taken offline again until a working version is available.  It does make you wonder though – if they can’t even get a simple online form to work, what hope for the massively complicated universal credit software system?



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