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Work Capability Assessment for determining disability benefit faces challenge in the High Court

Date: (2 July 2012)    |    

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Two people with mental health problem whose names have been withheld on their request have applied for judicial review of the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) a computer led test which determines the eligibility for sickness and disability benefits.

Their lawyers have requested the court that the computer led test was discriminatory against people with mental health problems as it was a very stressful process of undergoing the 20 minute assessments with strangers.

Mr Justice Edwards Stuart is considering whether to allow the application.
Counsel for the petitioners highlighted that there were very high levels of appeals against all decisions where Employment and Support Allowance (the new Incapacity Benefit) were being denied; currently there was around 40% of unsuccessful claims, with most of these very high levels of decisions being overturned on appeal. She described it as a "highly inefficient and undesirable situation".
She told the judge that many of the medical staff employed by Atos, the company contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out the assessments, had no specialist knowledge of mental health issues.
Claimants with mental health problems who were more likely to have a chaotic lifestyle with no clarity of their own conditions couldn’t be expected to understand the need to gather extra medical evidence from their doctor in support of their claim or are well equipped to make phone calls to organisations that might support them, she said.
Because they were also often reluctant to tell people about their mental health problems, they were often not very good at summarising the nature of their illness, sometimes downplaying its severity.
Under such conditions these people were more likely to find the process of appealing very difficult which could be very damaging to their condition, she said.
The claim was based on the argument that the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) had made a mistake in law by failing to make reasonable adjustments to the assessment system, for the benefit of people with mental health problems, in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.
The hearing on Friday was the first stage in requesting a judicial review. The claimants were not just challenging what happened during their assessments, but were mounting a challenge to the DWP, which, if successful, would require changes to be made to the system for all claimants with mental health problems.
Questioning whether the system was flawed only in terms of handling claims from people with mental health problems, the judge described the assessment system as "pretty crude" across the board. The judgment was reserved until a later date.