The Department for Work and Pensions today publishes a report of qualitative research into customer and staff views and experiences of trial incapacity benefits reassessment for Employment and Support Allowance, which commenced in October 2010 in the Aberdeen and Burnley areas. Ninety customers were interviewed, as well as Jobcentre Plus and Atos Healthcare staff working on trial reassessment. The main findings were:
The overall customer journey for trial reassessment
Overall, the customer journey for trial reassessment worked well and customers were successfully guided through the different stages of the process by the letters and phonecalls they received from Jobcentre Plus.
Initial stages of reassessment
Most customers received a letter notifying them they would be reassessed, followed by a phonecall from Jobcentre Plus about a week later. Customers found these relatively easy to understand, and most thought the phonecall added a welcome ‘human element’ to the process, with staff viewed as friendly and helpful. The main message they took from these was to expect the ESA50 form to arrive in the post and to return this as quickly as possible.
Completing the ESA50 form and the Work Capability Assessment
Customers generally understood the importance of completing the ESA50 form accurately and within the four-week deadline, which partly reflected momentum established by the initial phonecall from Jobcentre Plus. Although they did not always find the form easy to complete, they were mostly able to complete it. Some asked family or friends for help.
Experiences of attending a Work Capability Assessment were mixed. Although some customers commented positively on the empathy and professionalism of the Healthcare Professional (HCP) conducting their assessment, negative reports of the tone or manner of HCPs were reasonably common.
Decision making on reassessment cases
Decisions on ESA entitlement were made by Jobcentre Plus decision makers, taking into account the customer’s ESA50 form and report of their WCA prepared by Atos Healthcare, as well as any other evidence provided by the customer or requested from their GP.
The two sites making trial reassessment decisions sometimes took different approaches to this process. One site tended to send cases back to Atos Healthcare for checking when they doubted a WCA recommendation, while the other tended to overturn the WCA recommendation on the basis of evidence such a GP report of the ESA50 form.
Customer views on the outcome phonecall and letter from Jobcentre Plus
Customers placed in the ESA Support Group were generally content with their outcome and had no further questions, although they welcomed the ‘human’ element of the phonecall
Customers placed in the ESA Work Related Activity Group tended to be unsure about the implications of this, and some thought that the reference to ‘Work’ in their outcome letter meant they would be required to seek work immediately. The phonecall provided welcome reassurance that this was not the case. Views of attending an initial Work Focused Interview were positive, with initial apprehension counted by informative and reassuring advisers.
Customers disallowed ESA were generally stunned and/or angry, although a few were unsurprised and admitted they felt ready to work. This group were generally unable to formulate any questions on next steps during their outcome phonecall, and may benefit from further contact from Jobcentre Plus once they have had time to consider their outcome.
Non co-operation with the reassessment process
Deliberate non co-operation with reassessment seemed low. Administrative issues, and the inability of some customers with particular conditions or chaotic lifestyles to cope with the process, were the main reasons for late or non-return of the ESA50, or non-attendance at the WCA.
Notes for Editors:
- “Trial incapacity benefits reassessment: customer and staff views and experiences”, by Lorna Adams, Katie Oldfield, Catherine Riley and Madeline Nightingale, of IFF Research Ltd., was published on 1 June 2011 as report 741 in the DWP research report series. It is available on the DWP website: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rrs-index.asp
- Further background information on the trial reassessment customer journey, and Employment and Support Allowance, is available in the main report of this research.
- This qualitative research involved in-depth interviews with ninety customers at the beginning, middle or end of the reassessment process, as well as small group discussions with Jobcentre Plus and Atos Healthcare staff working on the trial at a number of sites.
- Jobcentre Plus has used the findings of this research to enhance the design of the customer journey for national reassessment.