UK

Sickness benefits legal challenge to continue

  • 4 December 2013
  • From the section UK
Court of Appeal
Image caption The Court of Appeal has ruled that the case can continue.

Two people with mental health problems can continue their challenge against government tests for sickness benefit, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In May, judges ruled the Work Capability Assessment put people with mental illness, autism and learning difficulties at a disadvantage.

The government immediately appealed and the challenge was put on hold.

Judges at the Court of Appeal have upheld the original decision, meaning the judicial review will continue.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) tests, which measure a person's entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by determining whether they are fit for employment, were introduced in 2008 and are carried out on behalf of the government.

Judges at the Upper Tribunal have been told by the claimants that the system is too difficult to navigate and discriminates against them.

The DWP says there are safeguards in place in the process to help claimants with mental health issues.

Additional advice

A final judgment is expected next year unless the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decide to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The case is being brought by two claimants with mental health problems, whose identities have been protected.

Their lawyers argue that where a claim is from someone with a mental health problem, it should be the government's responsibility to seek additional medical evidence from a professional, such as a GP or social worker.

UK charities Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society intervened in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of their members and supporters.

Almost 20,000 people are assessed each week for ESA - including those moving over from the old benefit system of Incapacity Benefit (IB) - in England, Wales and Scotland according to DWP figures. The benefits system in Northern Ireland is administered separately.

'Flawed assessments'

In a joint statement, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society said: "The judges in the original ruling independently confirmed what our members and supporters have been saying for years - the system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and is failing the very people it is meant to be supporting.

"In light of today's ruling it would be irresponsible for the DWP to carry on using these flawed assessments as they are. They must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving Incapacity Benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.

"We hope that the DWP will now take these concerns seriously and look to address the problems with the system rather than appealing again."

A DWP spokesman said the judgement was "complicated" and that assessments will continue.

"This case is still on-going and will return to the Upper Tribunal to consider whether the adjustment to the process proposed by the claimants is reasonable", he added.

"The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the previous government. We have made - and continue to make - significant improvements to the WCA process for people with mental health conditions since then."

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