A CITIZENS advice leader in Hartlepool say benefits claimants are struggling to survive while they await the outcome of appeals.
Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau says more and more sick and disabled people are getting into debt while they wait for an answer from officials for their Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims.
We’ve seen increases in personal debt as people fight to get byJoe Michna, Hartlepool CAB manager
Research found some claimants are left without money as they wait between six and 14 weeks for the outcome to a second opinion from benefits chiefs.
And the advice service says switching claimants to Jobseeker’s Allowance while they wait for a decisions is costing taxpayers almost £30 million a year.
The Hartlepool bureau is joining a national campaign calling for the appeals system to be reformed.
Joe Michna, manager of Hartlepool CAB, said: “We see very many people coming to us with problems about Employment and Support Allowance.
“The mandatory reconsideration process (review process) is leaving people desperately battling living costs.
“The system is confusing and many people do not wish to claim Jobseekers Allowance pending the outcome of their review request as they do not consider they are fit for work.
“To claim Jobseekers Allowance a person must be fit for work.
“People we advise cannot see the logic of claiming Jobseekers Allowance when they are challenging a decision on their medical fitness for work.
“We’ve seen increases in personal debt as people fight to get by.”
Changes to the rules on getting a second opinion came into force last June in an attempt to improve the process by making decisions quicker and better communicated.
But a Citizens Advice survey of 200 of its advisors found an increase in claimants contesting fit for work decisions, difficulties in claimants being able to contact the Department of Work and Pensions and problems due to delays.
Mr Michna added: “We need to see as p urgent financial help now for people caught in the appeals process.
“We are joining the national Citizens Advice campaign to have the current system reformed.
“People should be able to continue to claim ESA until the outcome of their review and subsequent appeal if the decision is not changed after the first stage review.
“Employment and Support Allowance still has a long way to go to prove it is actually fit for purpose.”