West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Many losing Employment Support Allowance because vital GP evidence not being secured

Published: 12 March, 2012

Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Michaela Boyle says that she believes that many people are losing their entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) because of the failure of Departmental decision makers to secure key GP medical evidence before making decisions.

The local MLA has now written to DSD Minister Nelson Mc Causland calling upon him to investigate and address what she describes as 'a major flaw' in an ESA decision making process which is already flawed in so many other areas.

She said,

"My office is dealing with the fallout from the mess resulting from the many flaws in the ESA decision making process on a day and daily basis as are our offices right across the six counties.

"I have already been deeply critical of other aspects of the ESA decision making process such as the fact the overwhelming majority of ESA claimants undergoing the new 'Work Capability Assessment' are being disallowed despite many claimants having, severely debilitating, chronic and life limiting illnesses and having questioned the objectivity of these decisions given that a large percentage of disallowance decisions are being subsequently overturned at Appeal Tribunal stage and of these successful appeals, 60% involved cases where the claimant had originally been awarded no points in the Work Ccapability Aassessment.

"I believe one of the major contributing factors to wrong decisions being made is because Departmental decision makers are not securing vital GP evidence before making decisions in a large number of cases.

"This inconsistency in the standard of evidence being applied to decisions is denying many people the right to have their case corroborated and substantiated through vital GP evidence and given the preferred weighting Department decision makers are attaching to EMP ('Atos Health Care Professional') assessment reports, over evidence contained in applicants/claimants self-assessment (ESA50) forms, people in this category are being put at a distinct disadvantage.

"The disadvantage is further compounded given the increasingly uphill-battle constituents in this category are encountering in attempting to secure GP evidence for the purposes of appeal.

"The policy of most GP practices is to now only provide such evidence if directly requested to do so by the Department (with standard remuneration rates for GPs from the Department for undertaking this work) and often constituents are either totally unable to get access to GP supporting evidence because of this policy or can only get it by paying a fee (which varies from £20 upwards) directly to a GP. Given that the rates for ESA appellants are just slightly above those of Jobseekers Allowance, this cost is prohibitive for most.

"The absence of GP evidence is also increasingly contributing to many ESA Appeal Tribunals having to be suspended and re-scheduled which is further adding to the already spiralling costs of Tribunals with so many people now appealing.

"I have written to the Minister calling upon him to investigate and address this major flaw in the ESA decision making process a process which is already flawed in so many other areas.