Monday, 28 May 2012

Work Capability Assessment Survival Tips

Raymondo, member of Kilburn Unemployed Worker’s Group and Social Work Action Network London, shares with us his Work Capability Assessment Survival Tips…

The Work Capability Assessment is the test by which people claiming the out of waged work benefit Employment and Support Allowance are gauged as qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance or ‘fit for work’.

“The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has three stages. Firstly, the Limited Capability for Work Test determines whether or not you remain on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), secondly, the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity Test determines whether you join the ‘support group’ of claimants or the ‘work-related activity group’ and thirdly, the Work Focused Health Related Assessment provides a report that can be used in any work-focused interviews that you may be required to attend later on.” (i)

Atos Origin are the company profiting from carrying out the much criticised Work Capability Assessments.

WCA Survival Tips

(Some of these tips are repetitions or further defining of others. This is to add emphasis.)

 1)    Never answer a question without understanding what it means. (ii)

 2)    Wise up on the ESA eligibility ‘descriptors’. (iii)

 3)    From the moment you first apply for Employment & Support Allowance, consider

 4) who will be best suited to accompany you to the ‘medical’ interview and

 5) who to approach for evidence to back your case.
 The person to accompany you will be your McKenzie Friend. (iv)

 6)    Realise that shame and embarrassment in relation to your condition may be the biggest barriers to your successful form completion. In the world of claiming ESA what was previously regarded as a ‘mark of shame’ often becomes a ‘badge of honour’.

 7)    Picture yourself on a really bad day, because otherwise the inconsistency of ‘it varies’ answers will too easily be interpreted as, “This descriptor is insignificant to this claimant’s eligibility.” Beware also of the inconsistent ordering of some of the answers in the ESA50, and recognise the relevance of minimum 24 hour working week realities to what makes your condition worse.

 8)    Realise that the ESA50 form content sets the scene for how you will be assessed.

 9)    Consider the possibility of a relevant helping professional completing the ESA50 on your behalf, but be the final arbiter on this. A relevant helping professional’s authoritative input may be especially helpful if yours is an invisible disability or mental health condition, but if they take a rushed approach to your form’s completion while you may be inclined to attempt to avoid embarrassment in stating how bad your condition really is/can be, their input may well weaken your case.

 10)    Never attend the Work Capability Assessment ‘medical’ alone. This is something you must factor in when completing the ESA50.

 11)    Make optimum use of the ‘lead time’ from receiving the ESA50 application form to the deadline for form completion and return, bearing in mind that the ESA50 will be redirected to a different address than that given on the reply envelope before it reaches the Atos team who will be conducting your individual assessment.

 12)    Quote any documented evidence as much as possible in the body of the form, rather than relying on a covering letter and/or other attachments that are all too commonly ‘lost in the post’.

 13)    Keep copies of all your form content and documentation. Electronic copies of your form content can make editing form content easier for repeated testing situations.

 14)    Check out the building accessibility of the ‘Medical Examination Centre’ (MEC), realising that elevator access may not be operating at the times that the adjoining jobcentre closes. (Some MECs are open on Sundays, and when jobcentre staff go home at 4:30pm, elevator access may be denied.)

 15)    Realise that the ‘suggested route’ details/advice that Atos Healthcare admin issue of how to get from your home to the MEC may be unnecessarily complicated in order for you to be intimidated out of attending.

 16)    Don’t allow yourself to be bullied and intimidated by the inflexibility of ‘we’re only following orders’ Atos call-centre staff. In the event of your not being able to attend the MEC as a consequence of any ‘last-minute emergencies’, say, arising from the weather denying your McKenzie friend access to a car ride from home to the MEC, realise that a call to the relevant Disability Benefit Centre can trump such inflexibility. Remember, without someone to attend the medical, it will be assumed not only that you have no trouble getting to appointments alone, but also that you will be a less reliable witness than someone who can corroborate your version of what happened or did not happen at the medical.

 17)    Consider the ‘medical’ as more of an observation activity with you as the one being observed from the time you enter the waiting room, rather than an exhaustive and thorough medical examination.

 18)    Seek out, join, or form a support group for benefit claimants. This will help make your life feel more relevant between WCAs and help to counter the isolating influences of the reassessment process.

 19)    Keep abreast of changes to the law as it relates to your ESA entitlement.


(ii) Dorothy Leeds (1998) Secrets of Successful Interviews. The fact that the vast majority of ESA claimants who win their tribunals do so with advocacy support indicates that those without advocacy are not sufficiently resourced with the relevant information and interpretative guidance.

(iii) Beyond a Yahoo! Search for “ESA descriptor points”, you might consider subscribing to the services provided by Benefits & Work Publishing. A year’s individual person subscription to Benefits & Work Publishing costs currently less than £20 per year and allows you unlimited access to their guides written by legal professionals into how the ESA descriptors might be interpreted.

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