Sick and disabled ‘being left in limbo’

SICK and disabled residents are battling to stay financially afloat while they wait in limbo for appeals on whether they are fit to work, a charity has warned.

Residents across Adur and Worthing have been left without employment and support allowance (ESA) while they await a second opinion on their ability to work.

Central and South Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, which has a base at Worthing Town Hall, has seen incidents of benefits being frozen after initial ESA applications were rejected.

Liz Chesters, of CAB, said: “The mandatory reconsideration process is leaving people desperately battling living costs.

“In some cases, people are reliant on food banks and their health is at risk. We’ve seen increases in personal debt as people fight to get by. We need to see urgent financial help now for people caught in the appeals process.

“Employment and Support Allowance still has a long way to go to prove it is actually fit for work.”

The Government introduced ‘mandatory reconsiderations’ – a second opinion process – in a bid to cut lengthy appeal waiting times last June.

But a CAB survey of advisors suggested the change had not made the system any easier.

Latest figures, between April and December last year, show 28 cases in Adur and Worthing which the CAB could not solve by advice and support alone.

Advisers drew up Bureau Evidence Forms (BEFs) to detail the impact on clients and identify trends.

They say these were only the most serious cases, with many more coming to them for advice on ESA.

The news came as a concern to Worthing Liberal Democrat leader Keith Sunderland. He said the ESA problems echo the recent Worthing Borough Council decision to charge the poorest £5 a month in council tax, when they previously would have paid nothing.

He said: “I am afraid it just goes to show that when it comes to making the books balance it is the vulnerable that get hit because so few of them vote.”

In one case, an ESA claimant visited the CAB after a month of no income, having run out of food.

Administrative errors had led to a misunderstanding over an appointment, which the client believed they did not have to attend.

They later received a letter to say their ESA payments had been suspended due to their non-attendance.

In another case, a client came to the bureau with physical, cognitive and memory problems following a stroke, as well as suffering from depression.

Despite having the support of their GP, their ESA claim was refused and granted only on appeal.

Many clients seek a temporary transfer to Jobseekers’ Allowance while awaiting appeal but often find the Jobcentre ruling them unfit for work.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The mandatory reconsideration process allows claimants to present fresh evidence in support of their claim and can prevent them from having to lodge a formal appeal. During this time, claimants are still able to claim Jobseekers Allowance without affecting the appeals process.”