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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Committee report criticises health assessments system for accessing benefits

Committee report criticises health assessments system for accessing benefits


Report finds health assessments system continues to let people down

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee published its latest report as part of its inquiry into health assessments for benefits on 14 April, which finds that the health assessments system to access benefits for those who are unable to work or face extra costs due to ill-health or disability continues to let people down.

The Committee expresses serious concern that nearly five years on from the predecessor Committee’s report on personal independence payments and employment support allowance, which also identified significant problems concerning health assessments, people are still experiencing psychological distress as a result of undergoing these assessments. The latest report states that in some cases, issues or errors in the system have been associated with or have been found to have contributed to the deaths of claimants.

The Committee sets out a series of measures to address the issues identified, including measures to improve trust in the system, reduce waiting times and address the high amounts of decisions that are reversed on appeal. Among the suggested action, the report states that the government should commit to undertaking regular reviews of the impacts of assessments, as well as making data available to external researchers. The government is advised to make clear how it identifies cases for internal process reviews, and to publish disaggregated data to help establish how far health assessments are contributing to cases of death or serious harm among benefits claimants. It is also recommended that all staff and contractors involved in the health assessment process should undertake safeguarding and suicide prevention training.

Commenting on the new report, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Sir Stephen Timms MP said: “We surveyed eight and a half thousand people as part of our inquiry and found a profound lack of trust in the system as a consistent theme. Many will welcome abolition of the Work Capability Assessment. The Government’s process improvements, and recognition that the system causes undue stress and hardship, are steps in the right direction. However, waiting years for changes won’t cut it when quicker wins are available: flexibility of choice on assessment by phone or face-to-face; recording assessments by default; extending deadlines to reduce stress; and sending claimants their reports. All this will give much-needed transparency to a process that so few trust yet affects their lives so fundamentally. All efforts must be made for unnecessary limbo and stress for claimants to be put to an end.”