Backlog in benefits department over Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) leaves thousands awaiting support

Over 700,000 people are waiting for ESA due to a benefits backlog. The announcement came at the end of June, 2014, with the Minister for Disabled People blaming the delays on Atos, who are contracted to carry out the fitness to work tests.

The Department for Work and Pensions said:

“Incapacity Benefit reassessment has resulted in over 700,000 people looking for, or making steps to return to work – it is crucial that we continue this important process to ensure that people are not written off and we get a fair deal for the taxpayer.”

"Unless ministers make changes to how assessments are carried out then sick and disabled people face another three years of delays, anxiety and unfair treatment."
“Unless ministers make changes to how assessments are carried out then sick and disabled people face another three years of delays, anxiety and unfair treatment.”

The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit that offers financial support if you’re unable to work, and also personalised help so that you can work. Those on Income Support or Incapacity Benefit may be transferred to the ESA. It is available if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed. Claimants must go through a work capability assessment in order for the allowance to be assessed. The backlog stood at 712,000 people, with 394,000 of these new claimants, and 234,000 existing recipients of the benefit. 84,000 people are on Incapacity Benefit, waiting to be transferred to ESA.

Atos, who are responsible for the work capability assessment, consider themselves “vilified” for doing as instructed by Parliament. Atos’s contract has been ended early with a new contractor to be appointed in 2015.
Citizens Advice commented:

“Employment Support Allowance is now the biggest single issue that Citizens Advice clients need help with and more than 1.5 million people have come to us about problems with ESA since it was introduced.
“Unless ministers make changes to how assessments are carried out then sick and disabled people face another three years of delays, anxiety and unfair treatment.”


The Cost of ESA

According to the BBC, internal government memos have revealed that claimants face an average waiting time of 9 months after assessments, and that positive outcomes of the benefit are few, with less claimants getting jobs.

Nearly 2 million people currently claim ESA, entitled to just over £100 per week. By 2018/19 the costs of the benefit are expected to rise by approximately £13 billion, calling it “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government.”

On the costs, Mr Penning, Minister for Disabled People, said:

“It needs to evolve, it needs to change as we go forward and we need to make sure we get the right decisions – as in any other benefit – the right money goes to the right people and that’s what the taxpayer would expect us to do.”

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