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Employment and Support Allowance

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

9. What plans he has to issue guidance to prospective applicants on the evidence required from them to receive employment and support allowance. (66538)

ESA claims are normally made by phone. A statement is then sent to the claimant setting out any additional evidence necessary to support the claim. If claims are made using a clerical form, notes are provided about evidence that may be required. There are no current plans to issue further guidance, but this is constantly kept under review.

I thank the Minister for that answer and am pleased to know that this is under review. Answers to my written parliamentary questions show that in Chippenham nearly half of all unsuccessful applicants who appeal win their cases at tribunal, in some cases by presenting evidence that they did not know they were to produce when they first made their application. Does the Minister recognise that these successful appeals are a costly process that do not represent value for money for the taxpayer and cause unnecessary heartache and hardship for the people concerned?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and want to see fewer cases going to appeal. This is one reason why we have stepped up the reconsideration process in Jobcentre Plus, so after the initial decision is made we actively seek out further evidence, if such evidence exists, and use it to reconsider our decision. I hope and expect to see the number of successful appeals reduce significantly as a result.

Local Jobcentre Plus officials have advised me that there is already a significant delay in the work capability assessment test in my local area because the assessments are taking around twice as long as was originally predicted. Can the Minister reassure the House that this is not the situation across the whole country and that there is no backlog in the work capability assessments, with all that that would imply for claimants and for the service?

We have remained on schedule to start the process for individuals. It is not the case that assessments are taking twice as long. There is an early element of bedding in for the personalised statement, as was recommended by Professor Harrington, but we are not aware of any long-term factors that would change the timetable for the whole reconsideration process.