Friday, 6 December 2013


Well, someones telling porkies. The ostensibly leftish Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) prepares a report advocating wholesale reform of benefits, training and education for young people with the stated aim of eliminating NEETs (young people not in employment, education or training). The IPPR are well connected. The report is flanked by puff pieces in both the leftish New Statesman and the right wing Spectator; it even gets a Guardian editorial in support.

Unfortunately the carefully crafted attempt to fashion a ‘debate’ in which the great and the good and the policy wonks were all agreeing with each other is rather knocked off course when the Daily Telegraph headline their report ‘Labour: We’ll scrap benefits for under 25’s’. That is crude and creates altogether the wrong impression. Labour’s new social security spokesperson, Rachel Reeves, is forced into a denial - to much gnashing of teeth from Blairite supporters of the report. Suspicion abounds that a Tory spoiling operation has deliberately wrecked the IPPR’s launch of a reasonable and progressive policy., actually. The Telegraph report was accurate. The IPPR report, coming from the heart of the Labour establishment (with no less than three articles in the New Statesman promoting it), fully warrants the headline. Rachel Reeves now says - or rather, tweets - that this is not her position. Polly Toynbee elaborates for her. Good. Because the proposals in the report are truly shocking.

The report does make some valid points. It is cruel and outrageous that people of any age, but especially young people, are obliged to claim JSA and then forbidden to try any form of training or education to improve their prospects of work, or indeed just to improve themselves. Instead they are required to undertake an endless, pointless search for jobs that either aren’t there or aren’t worth doing. It really is unacceptable that young disabled people find door after door closing in their faces as they try to get a an education, get laid, and do something useful and interesting with their lives.

Although it also has some curious omissions. Nowhere in the report does it ask why millions of young people in the UK and across the world can’t find work any more. What has changed? Nor does it ask whether there is any relationship between young people’s increasing poverty (a word that doesn’t feature in the report at all) and the burgeoning, blooming, exploding wealth of the world’s elites. Questions which might suggest some different answers.

But anyway, how does this sound for a solution? - let’s take all their money off young people and their families and give it to our friends in the government contracting industry. Doesn’t immediately grab you? The fairness, reasonableness and progressive nature of this proposal doesn’t leap off the page? Never mind, let’s wrap it up a bit.

And, fair dos, the IPPR do nice wrapping, or at least there’s a lot of it. Their basic proposals are:
  • a youth allowance, at a flat rate £56.80 a week to replace all income support, JSA and ESA for 18-24 year olds not in work, conditional on participation in purposeful training or intensive jobsearch. DLA or PIP and tax credits would be available as at present as well but not Housing Benefit in most cases. The allowance would be available to young people in further education as well as unemployed young people. However “given fiscal constraints and public scepticism about benefit expenditure” it would only be paid where parental income was less than £25,000 a year
  • a youth guarantee that, within six months, they will be provided with further education, vocational training, paid work experience or paid training. Deep in the technical bits of the report that no-one reads one discovers that ‘paid’ here means  £2.68 an hour, the ‘minimum wage’ for young ‘apprentices, or £67 for a 25 hour week. All accompanied by ‘intensive jobsearch’. All compulsory. Fall out with someone, miss an appointment and there’s nothing.

But given the grand ambitions the report claims to aspire to - no more NEETs - when you actually examine it, it’s all a bit vague. There’s supposed to be a guarantee of something but it’s not quite clear what. Faced with this, one approach to understanding what’s going on is to follow the money.

For instance, under the last Labour government one of the things they did that actually worked to a degree was the introduction of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) - paying young people a bit of real, extra, money - up to £30 a week -  if they stayed in education or training. How do we know this worked? Because young people, who have been asked about none of the IPPR’s proposed changes, said so. Withdrawal of EMA was one of the very first acts of the Tory government and first on the list of complaints in the riots and student protests of 2011. For EMA, the money went from government, direct to young people - and it helped, as money does.

In this case the whole programme of training and forced labour the IPPR proposes, and which partly replaces EMA, is to be funded by:
  • removing the additional components in young disabled people’s ESA - typically £43.35 a week - and its replacement by the proposed youth allowance of £56.80 only
  • removing all extra elements in young parents’ income support or JSA beyond the basic £56.80 - typically £14.95 a week
  • removing all benefit entitlement - the new youth allowance, housing benefit, everything - from young people under 21 whose parents earn over £25,000 a year between them.

So the money comes from young people, especially young disabled people, and their families.

Unsurprisingly the report doesn’t explain itself as bluntly as this but all these proposals are there. In addition, says the report, there would be further savings from a ‘shakeout’ of present income support and ESA claimants faced with ‘full conditionality’. In other words some young people with an illness or disability, or with children, would not be able to cope with demands for full time training, education or work experience and would drop out of claiming. What would happen to them? Why does this not amount to creating even more NEETs? That is beyond the ken of the IPPR, and therefore beyond all human knowing.

The total savings from these proposals are estimated at £1.97 billion (you won’t see this figure in the report just its constituent parts, possibly because the IPPR can’t add up but, not to worry, I’ve done it for them). That’s the amount at stake then, the amount which it is proposed to take away from young people and their families. Where does this money go to?

Some of it appears to go back to different young people - young people from low income families in further education, after their 18th birthday. But this is sleight of hand. Buried deep in the report (pp.40-41) is the proposal that when any young person begins to receive the youth allowance of £58.60 a week, their family will cease to receive child benefit and child tax credit for them. Amounts of child tax credit and child benefit can vary but in the majority of cases will be more than the £58.60 youth allowance, sometimes a lot more. So an apparent generosity, of which the report’s promoters make great play becomes a trap which will plunge more families into poverty.

If the claim that money is being re-routed to young people in education is bogus, what is it actually being spent on, under the IPPR’s plans? On the Youth Guarantee it seems. Who would provide the things that are guaranteed under the Youth Guarantee? Training, jobsearch, work experience, that sort of thing? Well, the IPPR a very keen on getting local authorities involved in co-ordinating here. Co-ordinating, yes but local authorities don’t remotely have the means or resources to actually provide all this. Who would actually provide the services that are guaranteed under the Youth Guarantee and get the money for doing so? Well, you know, colleges could do some of it, erm,  employers might,  erm ...


Silence is always suspicious. There is scarcely a word in the 50 pages of this report about the existence of an entire industry of government contractors - ATOS, Capita, A4E and the like - who thrive on these sorts of contracts. Funny that, because it was the IPPR who recommended the changes which resulted in the last Labour government’s  New Deal programmes which provided the point of entry into the warm embrace of state funding for these sorts of company.

So a Labour friendly think tank produces a report, promoted in Labour friendly media, which advocates a further massive cut in young people’s benefits and transferring most of the money to the private companies who got their first big contracts under the last Labour government. They fail in their initial attempt to bounce Ed Miliband’s Labour into supporting their proposals and get a fit of the sulks.

But this is an ongoing project and an ongoing battle. There is a lot of money to be made from welfare reform and the think tanks, consultancies and policy experts sense a change of regime coming. Expect to hear more of this type of proposal as the next election approaches. Don’t expect to hear from the millions of people whose lives are wrecked in the process - unless we get organised to make our voices heard.

Originally published 23rd November 2013 by Welfare News Service

Saturday, 26 October 2013


decision making farmed out to government spies?

PIP (Personal Independence Payment) is the Coalition government's replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Its introduction is accompanied by the usual media assault of lies and half truths:
  • DLA expenditure, nearly £13 billion a year, is out of control they say. Not so: it is increasing mainly because disabled people are living longer;
  • only 6% of claims are decided after a face to face medical assessment, it is claimed. Not so: only 6% of claims are decided on the basis of a medical assessment by a DWP doctor. Most of the rest are decided on the basis of other medical evidence, like GP and consultant reports, all of which involve face to face assessments;
  • DLA awards are not reviewed. Not so yet again: all DLA awards can be reviewed at any time, and many are. They are not all reviewed because most disabling conditions are permanent and not likely to change.
In fact the replacement of DLA was announced in the June 2010 emergency budget with no other aim than to achieve a minimum 20% cut in expenditure, at the expense of working age disabled people - DLA claimants who have passed 65 are not being transferred. The government expects at least 500,000 people to have their DLA awards stopped or reduced on transfer to PIP.

But the introduction of PIP is not going well (like everything else Mr Duncan-Smith has a hand in). A central role in the introduction of the new benefit is given to medical assessments. Every claim must have a medical assessment. The conditions of entitlement for PIP are based on a system of 'descriptors' - brief statements about functional disabilities - which can be applied to any individual on a cursory yes/no basis and which attract points. The number of points awarded gives your PIP entitlement. It is a system designed to allow rapidly produced, standardised medical reports which minimise entitlements. And it is closely based on the computer system used by ATOS to generate reports on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims.

The contracts for PIP assessments - four of them worth over £400 million in total - were divided between ATOS and their rivals in the business of contracting for government services, Capita. ATOS proposed an ambitious programme - which they have not delivered - of setting up examination centres. Capita by contrast proposed to do most assessments by home visits. ATOS have also, for some unfathomable reason, had difficulties in attracting and retaining staff and now face industrial action. That ATOS is in difficulties is confirmed by the latest delays in the introduction of PIP.

PIP was initially only introduced in selected areas from April 2013. Since 10th June 2013 however no new claims for DLA have been accepted - everyone not already claiming DLA has had to claim PIP instead. Four months on and what is most striking is that there have been virtually no decisions made on PIP claims anywhere (apart from special rules claims for terminally ill people).

One reason for delay was the government consultation on the 20/50 metres criterion for the enhanced mobility component of PIP. The long established rule of thumb for DLA was that entitlement to higher rate mobility (which brings with it Motability cars and bus and rail passes) depended on establishing, in most cases,  that you were unable to walk more than 50 metres without severe discomfort. For PIP that test distance is reduced to 20 metres, provided you can walk that distance "safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and within an acceptable time period".

Under threat of judicial review the government agreed to a fake consultation on that provision which, to no-one's surprise, left the PIP rule unchanged, despite its being supported by just five of 1142 responses to the  consultation.

But although the 'consultation' delayed decision making, that only disguised the delays in the PIP assessment process. The scale of these became clear when a revised timetable for the transfer of existing DLA claimants to PIP was announced this week.

There are about 2.5 million people aged 16-64 who currently receive DLA. They all have to be re-assessed and transferred to PIP. This was going to happen from 28th October but will now only happen in selected areas: roughly Wales and the central band of England. These are the areas that went to Capita under under the government's contracts and are now called 'reassessment areas'. 

There is no indication at all as to when the areas covered by ATOS contracts will become reassessment areas. With the start of transfer delayed it is difficult to see how the time table as a whole can be maintained. The mass transfer of people with indefinite DLA awards to PIP was due to start in October 2015, conveniently after the next election, and be completed by 2018. The potential delay is, to be clear, unambiguously good news for disabled people. But ...

Two schemes
The result is that there are now two schemes operating, depending on where you live. Under both schemes it remains the case that you cannot now claim DLA for the first time, only PIP. And PIP decisions may now start to trickle through, which will give us a better idea of how the new benefit is likely to affect people.

But what if you are already claiming DLA? Then the two schemes come into play. In the ATOS areas (Scotland, Northern England, London and the South East and South Western England) although you cannot claim DLA for the first time:

  • you CAN renew your claim for DLA when it expires, and 
  • you CAN claim DLA as a adult from your 16th birthday if you were getting it as a child, and 
  • if your condition worsens (or improves) you CAN ask for your DLA award to be reconsidered, under DLA rules, without being transferred to PIP, but
  • you cannot claim PIP instead of DLA, even if you want to
until further notice.

In the Capita areas however (Wales and Central England), if you already have a DLA award:

  • if your DLA award is for a fixed period and that period expires on or after 17th March 2014 you CANNOT reclaim DLA. You will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead. (If your DLA award expires before 17th March 2014 you can still reclaim DLA)
  • if you received DLA as a child, and your 16th birthday was on or after 7th October 2013, you CANNOT reclaim DLA as an adult. You will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead
  • if you notify the DWP of a change of circumstances, particularly any change in your condition, you will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead - and your DLA award will be stopped after four weeks. Anyone who currently receives DLA, especially on a indefinite award, should get advice and then think long and hard before contacting the DLA office because of this rule;
  • you can claim PIP instead of DLA if you want to (a few people might be better off under PIP rules but it would be better to wait a while and see how actual PIP awards are going before deciding on this).
  • don't be fooled by the phrase 'invited to claim PIP' that the DWP are using. You have no choice because if you don't claim PIP when 'invited' your DLA will stop anyway.
Hope you've got that. Oh, and please note, one of the stated aims of PIP was to make it a simpler, more readily understandable benefit.

One rule among these complex transition rules that always looked particularly dodgy is the one which says that you will move from DLA to PIP if you "notify [the DWP] of a change in your condition". If you write in to them saying 'please supersede my DLA award because  x, y, z' then OK you've asked for it. But most people phone. And on the phone, anything can happen: 
'Can you tell me when my next payment is due because I have to arrange for someone to go to the Post Office with me?'
'It sounds like your condition has got worse' says the helpful lady on the other end
'Oh, yes, well, I suppose it has a bit'
'Then I think we should have another look at your award, in case it needs increasing'
'Oh, alright then'. 

And you're transferred to PIP.

That may not be typical but the point is, there's no way of telling with a rule this vague. Then it gets worse. The actual regulations governing DLA to PIP transitions are clear that this sort of compulsory transition should normally occur when the claimant informs the DWP of a change in their condition. However DWP official guidance, dated 23rd October, says something different:

From 28 October 2013 we will start inviting individuals [to claim PIP] if:
  • we receive information about a change in care or mobility needs on or after 28 October

Now, from whom do the DWP 'receive information' about an apparent 'change in care or mobility needs' other than from the claimant or their family and carers? From informers on their various fraud hotlines. The very language of the guidance suggests they have this in mind. 'We receive information' is suggestive; 'change in care or mobility needs' is even more so because this is the wording they invariably use when alleging DLA fraud. (They have no evidence of fraud from the outset so when someone is filmed rock climbing or whatever it is always attributed to an undeclared 'change in care needs' or 'change in mobility needs'). And at least one DWP official has confirmed this publicly. 

This is probably just about 'legal'. The DWP appear to be given enough discretion in the regulations (Reg. 3(1)) to 'invite' PIP claims on any ground at any time. If they adopt a policy of outsourcing this discretionary power to informers it will be difficult to prove or challenge especially with restrictions on judicial review

So, disabled people from this Monday, will, it seems, be at the mercy of anyone who makes a malicious phone call. Their DLA award will be ended early on receipt of that call and they will be transferred to PIP, with its potentially lower entitlement. It won't assist in the least that, on investigation, the DLA award was found to have been fully justified because the information will still have been received and the transfer to PIP, once started, is irreversible.

In case anyone thinks this is nothing to worry about, I offer my own case as a counter example. I receive DLA higher rate mobility and lowest rate care. Under PIP I expect to retain the higher rate mobility because, although I can walk more than 20 yards, I can do so only very slowly, using a crutch - so I can't walk 20 meters 'to an acceptable standard' and 'within a reasonable time period'. I do not expect to keep the care award however so I anticipate losing about £100 a month on transfer to PIP. The longer this loss is delayed, the happier I will be.

As it happens I escape (by a single postcode digit) being in a Capita contract reassessment area. But it is not clear if that will be any protection in the event of a fraud allegation. I am not unknown locally and it is far from inconceivable that some anonymous citizen might take a dislike to my protests and letters to the paper and decide it is their civic duty to inform on me. If they do so, the DWP may investigate, but they will find nothing at all about my activities which is inconsistent with the statements I made on my DLA claim (because I'm careful like that). But still I could Iose about £100 a month, immediately and without appeal, up to five years before it might otherwise have happened, on the bare word of a malicious sneak. Informers, in short, will be allowed to impose a loss of benefit on disabled people, in a complete perversion of normal legal procedures..

I really don't like this but I can't claim it's particularly unusual. In fact, one of the characteristics of the new 'austerity' is the general disregard and degradation of established rights and procedures. From tricking claimants into benefit sanctions, to ignoring rules then backdating changes to cover up the malfeasance, to the attacks on the Human Rights Act, the whole concept of legal procedures and rights is being pushed aside by executive action, backed by a carefully manufactured public opinion. This is why I am not particularly reassured by claims I have seen that, because the regulations imply that it is only disclosure by the claimant that triggers transfer to PIP, that precludes the DWP from putting into effect a policy to the contrary. They will do what they are told and I strongly suspect that, under this government, the instructions will be to speed up the transfer rate by all means available, if only to save Mr Duncan-Smith's blushes

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Birkenhead Labour MP, and ‘poverty tsar’ to the Coalition government, Frank Field, has written to the Prime Minister with some questions about food banks. Mr Field claims he is ‘gobsmacked’ by the need to ask such questions, and that he, and other MP’s, were ‘taken by surprise’ by the rapid growth in the use of food banks.

I am gobsmacked by Mr Field’s cheek. If any one person can be said to be responsible for shifting the ideological climate in support of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ it is the former anti-poverty campaigner, Frank Field. And it is those reforms, supported by Mr Field, which are causing the increasingly desperate food bank queues.

So here are some answers to Mr Field’s (pompous and illiterate) questions:


  • benefit sanctions, especially since Mr Cameron’s ‘stricter benefit regime’ (SBR) was introduced on 1.11.12;
  • Social Fund abolition - all emergency help from the DWP was deliberately ended in April, without replacement;
  • endless delays in processing benefit claims, caused by cuts in the DWP and a culture there which priorities sanctions over paying people their legal entitlement;
  • the bedroom tax;
  • abolition of Council Tax Benefit and its replacement by reduced local council tax support - in Birkenhead even the poorest householders are being required to pay at least 22% of their council tax, however low their income;
  • cuts to Working tax Credit and Housing Benefit, coupled with falling real wages, all affecting working families;
  • below inflation uprating of most benefits when inflation for basic items like food and fuel is increasing more than general inflation;
  • ATOS medicals resulting in disabled people losing all their income overnight - losses to be extended with mandatory reconsideration from 28.10.13.

The effect of all these changes was widely and correctly predicted by everyone who, like you Mr Field, knows about the welfare system. Yet NOT ONCE did you raise your voice while these changes were introduced.

Incidentally you should learn to write English properly.


What exists are largely Church run food banks, increasingly overwhelmed. You claim to be a Christian, Mr Field so you should know the injunction in Deuteronomy 15:

7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.

Why then did you not object, Mr Field, as a Christian MP, when abolition of the Social Fund was announced in June 2010? You must have known that Crisis Loans from the Social Fund were the only way many of your constituents survived and that food banks were the only replacement on offer.

And food banks try to restrict their supplies to a limited period; unfortunately benefit delays and sanctions are not so limited. People need help with food for as long as they have no money.


The ‘issue of debt’ doesn’t influence food bank demand at all. Debt does. You pay your rent shortfall, thanks to HB cuts, you pay your council tax, thanks to CTB abolition, you pay your inflated fuel bills, you repay your payday lender, you repay your Social Fund loan, you pay your bedroom tax. Then you have no money left for food. Not complicated.


No part, you sanctimonious slimeball. When you benefit is stopped by an ATOS medical, or sanctioned  because you were 10 minutes late to sign on you have no money. What part of ‘no money’ don’t you understand Mr Field? And when you do still have some money it’s precisely your budgeting skills that drive you to the food bank. You pay your bills first. Then you use your household skills to make a four day food bank donation last a week.


Since most means tested benefits can be and are sanctioned, suspended or stopped without notice at any time I think you know the answer to this one. Since every one of these things happens as a matter of deliberate government policy - your government Mr Field since you agreed to provide them political cover in your role as ‘poverty tsar’ - I think you know WHY benefits are not a reliable source of income as well.


It can’t. Are you really so naive, Mr Field? The private companies who run the Work Programme are not in the business of helping poor families or anyone else. They are in the business of milking the government for every drop of money they can. They are an organised, government approved, institution for benefit fraud. They do not remotely help people find work - they rely on people doing that for themselves, as they do; whereupon the Work Programme contractors claim their payments for something not of their doing at all.


Because the government has deliberately caused that hunger, removed all the services that were provided to prevent it, and drowned out the voices of anyone who tried to point this out in a concerted chorus of class hatred and contempt for poor people from their press. Your government, Mr Field.


Frank Field, for anyone who doesn’t know, has been MP for Birkenhead, one of the poorest areas of the country, since 1979. Before that he was Director of both the Child Poverty Action Group and the Low Pay Unit. While MP he set up the Birkenhead Resource Unit, primarily to take up benefit issues for his constituents (the Unit failed after the collapse of Barings Bank since it was funded by the Barings Foundation charity). The BRU employed bright campaigning lawyers like Nick Warren and Phil Shiner to take on cases against the DHSS (as it then was)  and earned Mr Field an undeserved reputation as a good constituency MP. (I took on some of the BRU cases when it closed, to give my credentials here).

Mr Field in short knows full well that benefits have never been generous, that families struggle in low paid work. Unfortunately Mr Field, over the years, alone in his Hamilton Square flat, came to hate and despise the people of Birkenhead, who had elected him as a campaigning MP who was on their side. I have if front of me a book Mr Field wrote in 1989 - “Losing Out - the Emergence of Britain’s Underclass” in which the contempt practically drips of the pages with talk, however qualified, of the ‘pathologies of the underclass’. He was a pioneer in the process of demonising and pathologising people who claim benefits which has risen to new heights under the Coalition government.

More recently Mr Field has been campaigning again. Crusading against the welfare reform that are creating child poverty on a level not seen for generations? Nope. His recent activities include:
  • a report, for the coalition government, blaming poverty on bad parenting, demanding more state control of working class families with young children, and replacing benefit increases for children with more funding for Sure Start and the like. Not one of the proposals have been adopted (except the benefit cuts);
  • claiming that Universal Credit will be a disaster. OK: he got that right. But why: because claiming benefits ‘rots the soul’ according to Mr Field. That’s unfortunate for disabled people and others who have no choice but to claim benefit, like me, like many of his constituents. (Be warned, Mr Field can smell our rotten souls). He’s not entirely wrong of course. Being poor, unemployed, disabled, badly housed does not do anyone any good. But for Mr Field the problem is not the poverty, the unemployment, the disability or the bad housing; the problem is the benefits and ‘benefit dependency’;
  • claiming that too much social housing goes to immigrants. The high minded, austere Mr Field is as capable as the rest of his peers of passing on gobbets from the racist gutter;
  • advocating extensions to the ‘right to buy’. Apparently this will solve the housing shortage; I won’t even try to fathom out why. It’s probably better for people’s souls to be homeowners or something;
  • complaining that the Labour Party is dominated by by Scots. Oh, FFS.

Now, it seems, Mr Field has belatedly realised that much of the genuine campaigning work he did as a young man, and others did for him as an MP, is being systematically undone by the Coalition’s war on welfare. He is trying, ever so cautiously and politely, to distance himself with this letter.

Too late, Mr Field, much too late. You have done your work for the ruling class and had your reward. They don’t need you any more. Nor do the people of Birkenhead. Resign, die, do what you will, but don’t befoul politics any more by turning your self disgust against the people in poverty you once used to work for.

Monday, 23 September 2013

MANDATORY RECONSIDERATION - now they want to stop us appealing

The one consolation and defence for the hundreds of thousands of people forced into the farce of an ATOS medical was that they could always appeal if the decision was negative. Over 400,000 people now appeal ESA decisions every year. Appeals are not perfect, not least because Tribunals still have to apply the same, crazy test. But at least you get a proper hearing before people who know something about the subject - and about 40% of the time the appeals succeed.

Now they want to stop that too ...

At present, if you fail your ESA medical, you can appeal and stay on the basic rate of ESA, as long as you keep sending in sick notes, until your appeal is decided by a Tribunal. Mandatory reconsideration means that you are not allowed to go straight to an appeal; you must first ask the DWP to reconsider their decision. On its own this would just be a way of discouraging people from appealing - a quite unneccessary extra bureaucratic hoop to jump through, and perfectly futile since DWP decisions always have been reconsidered - and occasionally changed - when you appeal. 

The really nasty part of this though is that, although you can still be paid basic rate ESA while you are waiting for an appeal to be heard, from 28th October, you CANNOT be paid ESA while you are waiting for your mandatory reconsideration request to be decided. There is no time limit within which the DWP must make a decision on a mandatory reconsideration request - they are aiming at 4-6 weeks but there is no reason why it should not take them months.

So the scenario, from 28th October, will be that you fail your ESA medical, you request a reconsideration, whereupon all your benefit stops completely for an unknown period. Your only option, in most cases, is to claim Jobseekers Allowance - or try to.

Now people SHOULD try to claim JSA when this happens. It DOESN'T, which a lot of people worry about, mean that you are accepting the ESA decision and can't succeed on the appeal (it doesn't usually come up at all in the appeal). And it doesn't mean you are acting fraudulently - they have decided you are able to do some work, not you, and you are taking them at their word. But it may not be easy because the Jobcentre will want to see some evidence that you are able to do some work, and looking for it. If you go in saying that you aren't fit for any work, your JSA claim will be refused. The line to take is that the DWP have decided that you are fit for some kind of work and you are ready willing and able to take on any work they can find which is suitable for you, given your conditions. The fact that that there probably isn't any such suitable work is not your problem. Being found fit for work doesn't mean fit for any kind of work at all and the Jobcentre can and do make some allowances when you have a disability or a health problem.

Nonetheless, a lot of people will have problems claiming JSA, signing on every fortnight, saying all the right things about looking for suitable work and maintaining their jobsearch activity. When the Jobcentre are told about your health problems, their usual reaction is to tell you to claim ESA! And if you can't, don't or won't claim JSA, you get nothing while waiting for mandatory reconsideration.

That's why we have to protest loud and long about mandatory reconsideration; this petition is a start. It is yet another blatant attack on sick and disabled and their rights. We are being driven to foodbanks and starvation by ATOS and denied access to justice.

Finally a few practical points:

1. Mandatory reconsideration only applies if the DWP letter notifying you of their decision says it does - the letter should say that you cannot appeal until you have requested a reconsideration.

2. You can request a reconsideration of the ESA decision, either by writing to the DWP (at the address on the letter giving you the decision OR by telephoning one of their call centres. You have one month from the date on the decision letter. The DWP say they will consider admitting a late review request but there is no right of appeal if they don't. So get review requests in on time - by phone if you are approaching the one month limit.

3. But when you get you mandatory reconsideration notice, you must appeal in writing, enclosing a copy of the notice (you should be sent a spare copy). You can download the appeal form here. Again you have one month from the date of decision

4. If you lose all benefit under mandatory reconsideration, you can still claim Housing Benefit for your rent. Ask the council to assess you on a 'nil income' basis.

5. The DWP, as part of mandatory reconsideration, will want to contact you by phone to 'discuss' your case and see ask you to send in any additional evidence. Do not be bullied into dropping your review request when this happens, even if they tell you you cannot succeed - it is not their decision. And do not agree to send in further evidence at this stage - it will only add to the delay and mean you have to survive longer with no payment of ESA. Send in evidence either when you first request a reconsideration or later, once your appeal has been admitted.

6. Once you have your mandatory reconsideration decision notice and make an appeal, your ESA can be restored, at the basic rate, but only from the date of your appeal. But you must then provide sick notes - so make sure you keep in touch with your GP and keep getting sick notes. If you are signing on, keep hold of the sick notes until you are allowed to make an appeal and submit them then.

EDITED 23rd September to update advice following publication of the regulations about mandatory reconsideration (SI 1983 2380 if you're interested) and to make this a separate post

UPDATED 6th December 2013: Esther McVey has said in answers to Parliamentary questions that:

  • a 'straightforward' mandatory reconsideration of an ESA decision is expected to take about 14 days. Straightforward apparently means that there is no extra evidence which reinforces the advice NOT to send in any additional evidence at the reconsideration stage;
  • Jobcentre Plus CANNOT overrule a decision that you are fit for work and refuse to pay you JSA pending reconsideration. However you must still agree to be available for any 'suitable' work and sign a jobseekers agreement. So, as I said, don't tell the Jobcentre you are not fit for any work at all. Tell them that DWP have decided you are fit for some, unspecified, work and you are available to do that work, whatever it is. They made the decision, not you, so it's up to them to help you find that work they say you can do.