CITIZENS advice bureau chiefs have joined forces with colleagues to take part in a national campaign aimed at ensuring sick and disabled people are not left stranded due to Government reforms.
Recent changes to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will make it harder for sick and disabled people to get fair treatment, warns Joe Michna the manager of the Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), in Park Road.
Advisers and volunteers at the Hartlepool CAB have helped more than 400 town residents with the widely-criticised ESA and in the past year alone, CAB nationally has helped with nearly half a million problems about ESA.
The Work Capability Assessment, which determines people’s eligibility for ESA, has been criticised for failing to deliver accurate decisions which are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than £60m.
Since October, anyone who is at first refused support will have to wait an extra two weeks while their initial application is re-assessed, during which time they will potentially be left without any income.
After the so-called ‘mandatory reconsideration’, if the decision is not changed, they can then make a formal appeal to an independent tribunal and only then will they be entitled to a further payment of benefit.
The recently launched CAB ‘Fit for Work’ campaign calls on ministers to:
l Ensure independent medical evidence is considered by officials before making an initial assessment about a person’s fitness for work;
l Ensure any applicants for ESA are not left without financial support during the new, extra reassessment;
l Fine assessors where they are shown to have made an incorrect medical assessment.
Mr Michna said: “Far too many of our clients are having stress piled onto unfairness as a result of this new system. We are worried that the early signs since changes were made have only made a bad situation worse.
“There is a real danger that people who are fully entitled to support are denied it for at least an extra two weeks or more as a result of these changes. We are pleased to be a part of this new campaign to get the problems sorted out for our clients.
“This needs to be a joint effort between ministers, officials, charities and health professionals to make sure sick and disabled people get quick and fair treatment out of this system which right now is simply not working.”
The CAB has four drop-in sessions a week on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 9.30am and 3pm.