The government has slashed the amount of time available to complete an ESA50 questionnaire form, reducing it from 6 weeks to 4 weeks, starting with forms issued on 31 October. The move will make it harder for claimants to include medical evidence with their questionnaire and lead to more vulnerable people being refused ESA because they failed to return the form in time.
The change to the law was quietly included in a collection of Miscellaneous Amendments regulations earlier this year. No reason is given in the ‘explanatory memorandum to the regulations as to why this change has been made.
Claimants who fail to return the ESA50 questionnaire, which asks for details of how a claimant’s health condition affects their ability to carry out everyday tasks, can have their claim for ESA struck out for failing to get the form back in time.
The reduction in the time limit is likely to affect many people with mental health conditions who already struggle to meet the six week time limit.
The change will also make it more likely that claimants with severe health conditions will have to attend a face-to-face medical, rather than being given an award of ESA based just on the papers. This is because it will now be harder for a claimant to collect and include medical evidence with their ESA50, so that it can be considered at the ‘scrutiny’ stage when a decision is made as to whether a claimant requires a medical examination.
The change in the law also seems to fly in the face of the alleged purpose of the independent reviews carried out by Professor Harrington, which are supposed to make the work capability assessment process more claimant friendly.
One of the recent claims by ministers is that the Atos medical report would carry less weight in future, with all medical evidence having to be properly considered by the decision maker. By making it harder to submit medical evidence at the start of the assessment, the government are doing their best to undermine this process.