Northern Ireland

Employment and support allowance: views sought by DSD

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Image caption People claiming the employment and support allowance are assessed on their capability to work

Views are being sought by Stormont on people's experience of the government's fitness-to-work benefit assessments.

Those claiming employment and support allowance, formerly known as incapacity benefit, are having their status reviewed.

It is part of a government drive to get more people into work and reduce welfare bills.

The third stage of a UK-wide review of the process is underway, and a report is due in October.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said during previous stages of the review, the public response was limited and it was important that people got across their views.

"It's not just about what went wrong or what you felt was unsatisfactory, it's also about what can be done to make the system better," he said.

Critics have said the large number of decisions overturned on appeal show the process is flawed and that tests are too impersonal, not medically rigorous enough and the fluctuating nature of some conditions is not sufficiently taken into account.

Under the system, claimants are placed in three categories: those deemed able to work straight away, those considered able to do so at some point in the future with the right help - the so-called work-related activity group - and those judged unable to work and needing unconditional support.

In Northern Ireland, almost a quarter of those on incapacity benefit who have been reassessed were found to be capable of work.

The Department for Social Development says 67% of claimants' appeals are upheld in its favour.

Mr McCausland said the number of successful appeals by claimants did not mean the process was flawed.

"When decisions are overturned on appeal, it's generally not because there was a flaw in the medical assessment - it's because all the additional information that was required from doctors, and other health professionals wasn't there," he said.

"When decisions are overturned, in virtually every case, four out of five, it's because additional evidence was produced.

"The point is made that it's important to get the information in as early as possible."

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