Welfare Benefits Specialists at 'Breaking Point' Jul 4, 2012 0:30:23 GMT 1
Post by nickd on Jul 4, 2012 0:30:23 GMT 1
"Citizens Advice buckling under volume
of calls over new benefits"
The chief executive of CAB said: 'Our specialist advisers are being overwhelmed.'
"Already overstretched service pushed to breaking point by requests for assistance with incapacity benefit, says CAB"
Guardian article by Amelia Gentleman Wednesday 4th July
"Advice centres are struggling to cope with a surge in requests for help because of rising problems claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), the new sickness and disability benefit, according to Citizens Advice, which responded to 97,000 requests for support on this issue alone in the first three months of 2012.
The charity said its "already overstretched service" had been put under severe pressure by the problems connected with ESA, and the controversial computer-led fitness test, the work capability assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for the benefit.
Problems connected with ESA were the fastest-growing area of need among people who consulted a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in the first quarter of this year, rising by 71% on the same quarter last year. There was an 82% rise in requests for help in mounting an appeal against a decision not to award the benefit. Around 38% of appeals against a refusal of the benefit are currently being overturned in the claimant's favour.
The rise is explained in part by the fact that last April, all former incapacity benefit claimants began to be reassessed for the benefit, which was introduced for new claimants in 2008; the increase in demand for help will be linked to claimants' lack of familiarity with the new process. Overall requests for help with benefit claims rose by 6% in that period, making this the largest part of the charity's work, making up 34% of all advice given by CAB.
The charity warned that its advisers were already struggling to cope with the huge rise in applications for support, and would find it extremely difficult to handle a further surge in requests for help next year when fundamental changes to the welfare system arrive with the introduction of Universal Credit
Gillian Guy, CAB chief executive, said: "This is a very worrying trend. ESA is giving rise to a far higher volume of appeals than any other benefit. As well as the huge additional stress and hardship this causes our clients, it also puts severe pressure on our already overstretched service. Our specialist advisers in bureaux are being overwhelmed by the volume of these complex and time-consuming appeals.
"Things are likely to get even worse when sweeping legal aid cuts come into force next spring. These will have a devastating impact on our capacity to provide specialist welfare benefits advice and casework – just as the biggest shake-up in the benefits system since the welfare state came into being begins to get underway."...
Thank you to the Guardian and Amelia Gentleman as well as Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice for raising the concerns of dedicated welfare specialists who deal with these appeals day in and day out. We are completely overwhelmed by an unprecedented increase in the number of Employment & Support Allowance appeals, with a whole raft of further appeals just around the corner. I strongly urge all welfare benefit specialists to comment on the Guardian article and use this great opportunity to promote the value of the work we do.
It all helps in our never ending commitment to ensure that we can carry on doing the work we do and strengthens our case for regulatory provision of legal aid for the work we do in appeals cases in the first - tier tribunals. We are still owed an outstanding concession on the legal aid, sentencing & punishment of offender's bill as fought for long & hard by Lord Bach and an army of campaigners; not least by all those who contributed to Justice for All.
This is an invaluable opportunity to comment; please use it!