Criticism of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has been regularly made in the past few years, has the time come for the Government to reassess it?

Over the weekend, a report in the Daily Express revealed that from September 2012, 42% of appeals against WCA decisions were upheld, a sign that something is wrong somewhere.

This is a very high number and indicates that the decisions made by officials from Atos, the company contracted by the Government to carry these out, were incorrect for half of all appealed cases. Given how many appeals are made – 168,000 in the year to March 2012 – this is affecting a huge number of people.

It should also be noted that the percentage of successful appeals is increasing. In the year to March 2011, 37% of appeals were upheld, and in the following year 39% were. This is despite reforms made to the WCA following the earlier reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

The costs of appeals against the decisions are £50 million a year, the Express report added.

On Sunday night, and for those living in London, Clive Bull a presenter on radio station LBC 97.3, ran a phone-in on this issue. He talked about its impact on people with mental health problems or learning disabilities.  In the show, a lot of callers phoned in to describe their experiences of the WCA. Many people spoke of their negative experiences of the process, such as the way it didn’t take account of their or their loved one’s disability or mental health condition, and the stress it caused them – even before they took the test.

Unfortunately the standardised ‘tick-box’ approach to the WCA’s fails to adequately account for rare, variable or mental health conditions and this can lead to greater inaccuracies in decision-making for these particular claimant groups.

While a test for eligibility for ESA is necessary, it has to be ensured that it takes account of fluctuating conditions. That may mean increased expenditure in the short term, but with the cost to the taxpayer of getting decisions wrong – and, more importantly, the people affected by wrong decisions – it could well prove to be a saving in the longer-term. So hopefully the Government will look at overhauling the WCA because of the harm it is doing to thousands of people.

Home Care Direct has experienced this first hand with it’s partnership working with A4E where people who are providing unpaid valuable care to a loved one are being encouraged to seek employment which can lead to the person needing care being left without the support they need.  Through our assessment support service and by employing personal assistants that the person needing support has chosen we have helped many people in this situation throughout the country.

To find out more hear from our clients and personal assistants here or tell us about your experiences here