In the UK, there are two main welfare benefits for people of working age. Simply put, JSA is for people who are able to work but can’t find any while ESA is for people too sick to work. In theory, everyone is covered by this system but I’d been hearing reports of people falling through a gap between the two benefits. People not sick enough for ESA but too sick to claim JSA. Here’s a typical story:
Government benefit changes meant he was assessed for the new Employment and Support Allowance in October. But on October 29 his £124 a week payments were stopped because he was assessed as ‘fit to work’ and told to claim Jobseekers Allowance.
“But when I went to the Jobcentre, the man there looked at me and said ‘I can see you’re clearly not fit to work’ and wouldn’t allow me to claim,” he said. “What was I supposed to do?”
I thought this couldn't possibly be true and the Department for Work and Pensions are with me on this:
- Set out the alleged "problem"
- Commented that since the problem was serious, the DWP would probably have produced guidance for staff and carried out research on the issue
- Asked for documentation on the research and guidance
- So far as I can see, they haven't done any research - perhaps they now will?
- They have eventually come back with some "new" guidance about ESA to JSA Transitions I call it "new" because at the time of writing, Google can only find it via my FOI request. Let's pick out some bits of that guidance:
- This item means that no JCP member of staff should tell a claimant they are too sick for JSA. However this guidance is somewhat buried and staff could easily be unaware of it. Let’s hope it’s easily and frequently accessed by JCP staff on an internal system.
- Even if challenging the Work Capability Assessment (that stopped their ESA) as many do with eventual success doesn’t automatically stop a claim for JSA, this seems likely to trip up many claimants. Their options seem limited to destitution or agreeing to actions that they believe they are incapable of
- This second "choice" is particularly poisonous. Not only does it place the claimant at risk of failure and sanctions, they have been “forced” to lie to the JCP staff which even if undetected damages the relationship and possibly the mental health of the more vulnerable.
- There is another, less obvious hazard. If the claimant goes on JSA and subsequently has more than 2 periods of sickness or periods of sickness exceeding two weeks, their JSA is stopped. Normally, a JSA claimant could fall back on ESA but "passing" the Work Capability Assessment within the last 6 months bars that unless the original illness has worsened considerably or they have a brand new one. This is particularly likely to snooker somebody with a variable illness or disability such as Bipolar Disorder.
PS 20/06/14: This briefing from Citizens Advice includes stories from their case-load of people falling between the two benefits.