Press release

Publication of DWP research report 719: Employment and Support Allowance: customer and staff experiences of the face-to-face Work Capability Assessment and Work-Focused Health-Related Assessment

Customers’ views and experiences of attending a Work Capability Assessment and Work-Focused Health-Related Assessment.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Department for Work and Pensions today publishes a report of qualitative research focusing on customers’ views and experiences of attending a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and Work-Focused Health-Related Assessment (WFHRA), the views of staff conducting these assessments, and potential improvements. Use of the report of the WFHRA in Work Focused Interviews (WFIs) is also covered.

The main findings were:

The ESA50 form

  • The ESA50 was often poorly-completed (particularly by customers with mental health conditions), meaning the Healthcare Professional (HCP) conducting the WCA had little reliable information on their condition beforehand. HCPs often requested reports on customers from their GPs, but these were frequently not sent to them.
  • Some customers found the ESA50 straightforward, but others felt it was long and complex, and were sometimes unsure what to put.

The face-to-face WCA

  • Customer expectations of the WCA often did not match up with reality; they expected a full ‘medical’ check-up, similar to something they thought they might receive from their GP. In practice, the WCA was mostly discussion, and took place with a doctor or nurse.
  • Customer views of the HCP’s manner during the WCA were mixed. Some praised their manner and professionalism, but many were unhappy. This was often because they thought the HCP had ignored medication or specialist/GP letters they had been asked to bring, or because the assessment seemed too standardised with a lack of flexibility for HCPs to ask questions customers thought were relevant.
  • Some customers raised a range of ‘process’ complaints, primarily difficulty persuading Atos to rearrange their appointment (even to accommodate hospital appointments or surgery), inconsistent advice on travel/taxis/reclaiming fares, and non-soundproof rooms.
  • Customers, HCPs and employment advisers often seemed uncertain about the purpose of the WFHRA. Customers and advisers felt the WFHRA duplicated discussions in Work Focused Interviews (WFIs), which the report of the WFHRA was intended to be used in. Some HCPs found discussing work difficult with customers, although others didn’t.

Work-Focused Interviews (WFIs)

  • Customers generally felt WFIs were very helpful, although there was little evidence that advisers were actively pushing boundaries and encouraging them to think more broadly about work.
  • There were no clear reports of the WCA or WFHRA having made a difference to customers’ motivation to find work, or their future aspirations or focus. Advisers rarely used the WFHRA report in WFIs.

Notes for Editors:

  1. “Employment and Support Allowance: customer and staff views of the Work Capability Assessment and Work-Focused Health-Related Assessment”, by Helen Barnes, Jane Aston and Ceri Williams, all from the Institute of Employment Studies, is available on the DWP website:
  2. Background information on the ESA50 form, WCA and WFHRA is available in the main report of this research.
  3. Forty-eight customers who had attended a WCA (34 of these had also attended a WFHRA) were interviewed in March-April 2010. Seventeen Atos Healthcare Healthcare Professionals conducting WCAs and WFHRAs, three Atos Healthcare Service Managers, and nineteen Jobcentre Plus and Pathways to Work Provider personal advisers were interviewed in June-July 2010.
  4. The Department will be considering the findings from this research as well as the recommendations from an external review of the Work Capability Assessment, which was recently published at The Government has accepted the recommendations of this review and its response is available at

Updates to this page

Published 21 December 2010