Clause 99 – further dis-figuring benefits for the disabled

Sick? Disabled? It seems unlikely a note from your doctor will save you if the DWP makes an unreasonable decision about your fitness for work.

Sick? Disabled? It seems unlikely a note from your doctor will save you if the DWP makes an unreasonable decision about your fitness for work.

What is this Conservative obsession with dodgy ‘clauses’ in legislation?

I’m old enough to remember the furore over ‘Clause 28′ – the section of the Local Government Act 1988 that forbade local authorities in the UK from promoting homosexuality in any way’. While I’m not of that persuasion myself, I could see that this was intentionally oppressive legislation – and it is a historical fact that it caused many organisations to close or limit their activities.

It was also unreasonable legislation, in my opinion, because it restricted the freedoms of people in the UK for no good reason.

Clause 99 (or Section 99) of the Welfare Reform Act is also an unreasonable restriction. From April this year, it will ensure that people receiving Employment and Support Allowance will not be able to put in an appeal until they have had a reconsideration by the Department for Work and Pensions.

That may seem fair enough, in order to minimise unnecessary work by assessors, but here’s the catch: If a person in the work-related activity group (the relevant section of society for this legislation – if you’ve been found ‘fit for work’, you’ll be on the different benefit anyway) seeks reconsideration, they will immediately be moved to Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Being on JSA means you are already legally defined as ‘fit for work’. You must therefore actively seek work while receiving that benefit; show proof that you are doing so; attend interviews arranged by Job Centre Plus; and may only refuse a job with a very good reason – and even then only three times.

Stating that you do not believe yourself to be fit for work is not a good reason to refuse a job, as the Government – by placing you on JSA – has made a legally-binding statement that you are fit for work.

And remember, the 12-month timebomb – the limit on contribution-based benefits – will still be ticking while a claimant is on JSA.

There appears to be no reason given to justify this provision.

Of course, production of a sick note from your doctor would invalidate a claimant from any job offers by a company. Nobody interviewing a person who is waiting for a reconsideration of ESA will offer them a job if they have one.

Unfortunately, doctors are now being asked to issue ‘fit notes’ – or more accurately, ‘Statements of Fitness for Work For Social Security or Statutory Sick Pay’ for when they consider a person is well enough to return to some kind of work, although possibly with restrictions.

They do allow GPs to give a professional opinion on what type of work can’t be undertaken, but they also allow the DWP to say that the claimant is fit for ‘work’ and to interpret that as it sees fit.

The aim of all this, it seems to me, is to put sick or disabled people in an untenable position; to place them under the strain of at least having to go through the motions, even though there can be no valid reason for doing so. In other words, it is completely unreasonable and contradictory.

Here’s the big money question, though: How many ordinary members of the public are even aware of this technicality?

I’m willing to bet it’s a tiny minority.

I certainly didn’t know about it until I had my attention drawn to it yesterday, and I write about the DWP, ESA and other disability benefits on a regular basis!

People are not going to think anything is wrong unless they know about it. This reminds me of a debate in the chamber of Powys County Council on Tuesday, when the council’s cabinet had to defend its plan to consult on the closure of two schools. The fact it wanted to close them became known only four or five days before the decision was due to be made, giving supporters of both schools an unreasonably short period of time (in my opinion) to launch any kind of defence. The consultation is going ahead.

So I would suggest that readers of this blog who care about such matters should join up with anyone else who has an interest and protest at high volume in the most public places possible. I’m sure you all know what to do and where to go – bother your MP about it; write to the press; take to the streets if you have to. Put up posters and send memes across the internet.

Make people aware that their freedoms are being taken away – with no justification to support the action.

28 thoughts on “Clause 99 – further dis-figuring benefits for the disabled

  1. Elle J Morgan

    Wow they think of everything don’t they, if I was to ask my GP for a fit note he’d laugh me out of his surgery, I can imagine the job interview now, me to employer, I can’t sit for more than 10 mins, stand for more than 1 min, use my arms, write with pen, drive, can’t bend or lift, get severe headaches, or type more than a few lines oh and have to sleep off the meds (opiates) for four hours during the day, I’m a health & safety risk…Oh and i’m also a lone parent so have to fit in with schools, can I have a job please………yeah right..

  2. maddsuspicions

    Hi, thank you for also bringing up Section 28, it is an accurate comparison to make I feel, both clauses seek to deny rights, as you rightly point out seemingly.

    I was at school when I was affected by Section 28, asking people in positons of authority could I talk to someone and being told “we’re not allowed to do that” has quite an impact. One which I think will be similar to the impact of this disgraceful clause in ESA. It will affect people’s lives negatively sadly.

    1. maddsuspicions

      And the shocking thing is the very same mob responsible for extending my period of confusion and bullying, leading to mental health issues are now responsible for putting me through this sadistic vile system! I tell you, there are no depths to which Cons will not sink!

  3. Big Bill

    People who seroiusly aren’t well obviously can’t be expected to sign on with any regularity and nor can they do work-related activity so either way they’ll be losing their benefits in short order. This is denial of benefits by any measure and we already know the end-game, no more benefit system so everyone’s driven into the arms of the private insurance companies like Unum, who no doubt will happily take any premiums going and will refuse to payout using something like the Atos testing to justify their stance. Where are the howls from the Opposition? Oh I forgot; they’re a bunch of crooks too.

  4. Steven Goodman

    I’m curious…does seeking a job, whilst unfit to do so invalidate employers insurance covering employees?

  5. Smiling Carcass

    A couple of thoughts come to mind- first, if you are unwell and unfit for work, and signing on for Jobseekers Allowance, could they not stop your benefit because you are not fit for work- despite another department saying you are- effectively wiping out all benefits, rendering you a non-person?

    Second, when the final push to privatise the Health Service is goes ahead, and we have to pay to see a doctor, and pay for a ‘fit note’ to say we AREN’T fit for work, how will those on benefits be able to afford it? Again, you aren’t fit for work, cannot afford to produce medical evidence to support that claim so cannot claim disability benefits, but the Jobcentre may well decide you cannot claim Jobseekers Allowance because you are not fit for work.

    Not sure I made that quite clear, but in effect you are too ill to work, but too fit to be disabled, ergo- no department will pay you and you cannot afford the medical opinion that would allow you to claim benefits- even if ATOS decided it was relevant!

    Fait Accompli- benefits are available; we haven’t shut down the welfare state- it is just cleverly rendered inaccessible to those that need it!

    1. Jane

      Not sure I get this? So if you appeal for SG from WRAG you get placed on JSA? No chance they can get away with that. Could I have the source for this please, pretty sure public interest lawyers would have a field day with this one.

  6. colin

    so when the streets are full of rioting people and buildings are burning where the f*ck will the gov be then ….answer…sending in the police and army …..so when nobody can go to work because the police and army have failed what will they do? answer is go on holiday cos they really dont give a f*ck

    1. Smiling Carcass

      “….answer…sending in the police and army ….” Tsar Nicolai had the same idea in 1917 when starving and disenfranchised Russians took to the streets; but what did the army do; did they fire on their friends, family and neighbours? No, they turned their guns on their officers, and thus a revolution was born.

  7. Ash Martin

    Thanks for the source, Mike…I have been surprised this shower have not forced claimants to sign on pending an ESA appeal (which was always the case with Invalidity and Incapacity Benefits) as long as you can get a sick note…maybe this is the thin end of that particular wedge, and we’re back to everyone signing on….BTW, contribution-based JSA only lasts 6 months…

  8. martin kroupa

    The government has made me sick the most. Are they criminals or just a fat bunch of evil idiots? Reading clause 99 makes me feel so sick I can’t even comment on it.

  9. Thomas M

    How much unrest and crime do this government want to cause I wonder? It’s them that will ultimately get hurt by all this trouble.

    1. Smiling Carcass

      Thomas, you miss the point that they do not care; their aim is to destroy the welfare system, irreversibly so that if they are not the next administration then their successors will be unable to address the situation adequately, leaving a fickle electorate open to their lies again and successfully seek re-election thereafter.

  10. Jane

    Ok, so just to clarify, I got the impression from this blog that those placed in the WRAG who wish to appeal to SUPPORT GROUP would have to claim JSA. This appears not to be the case as the source states those found Fit for Work and NOT Fit for Work Related Activity. So, I think we can assume that if placed in WRAG and wish to appeal to SG we can still received WRAG rate or at least assesment rate ESA . Those found fit to work will have to sign on duriing recon which is madness as JCP will no doubt say the person is too ill to fullufil the commitments in order to qualify for JSA. The only other option would be to calim hardship payment although, i’m not sure if this would be allowed and it is only about £30.00 a week from what I have been told.

    I would assume that public interest lawyers will be acting on this, if not already then very soon in the future. This is an absolute disgrace and the government are acting like complete loonies, but they know it will push people over the edge, don’t let them do it to you, don’t let them win. If this should happen to you contact your MP straight away, and ask them to contact the DWP to request that they deal with the recon swiftly.

  11. Sasson

    I think people are missing the point here. You won’t have a choice in the matter; the fact is that if you are not fit for work, the DWP won’t allow you to sign on, and yes, if you do, you’re declaring that you don’t qualify for ESA.

    When I was finally forced to give up work 3 years ago, I misguidedly thought that perhaps I could go part-time, so I went to the Job Center to speak to someone. They discussed why I had to leave work and afterwards they absolutely would not allow me to sign on. They said that I had to be fit to work full time to claim.

    This clause is going to cause absolute destitution to people who are already very poorly as they potentially go without any income for up to a 13 week period, and perhaps even longer. The DWP will only start paying you again from the date that you appeal. If you win your appeal, they will not back date the 13 week period either, so disabled people will go without any income for over a quarter of each year, which is effectively a benefit cut of 25% and more.

    And remember, when you are denied ESA, you lose your DLA. so you will need to reclaim this, and the DWP will not back date this either. You may be able to claim housing/council tax benefit directly from the local authority, but you will still be liable for the new council tax for benefit claimants, and the bedroom tax along with all utilities. You can be jailed for not paying council tax as well, so for the first time in a very long time, someone could be jailed not for a refusal to pay, but simply by the fact that they are poor.

    I’m just in the process of being reassessed for ESA, and this well might apply to me as it takes months to sort it out. I’ve been trying to work out how I would manage, but quite simply I won’t and I will have to ask family and friends for help. The thing is, as good as they are, are they really going to be able to keep me for a quarter of every year? Resentment is bound to build up; I’ve seen it happen to someone I know who went without income for 9 months.

    Actually, this clause isn’t that new in principle. 2 other people I know were left without any income because they were turned down for ESA and were not allowed to claim JSA. One of them went 18 months without any income, but was living with his mother so at least he had a roof over his head. The other one is currently without income, and his mother who lives the other side of the country, is keeping him.

    We can’t wait 2 years for another government to get in and reverse these damaging ‘reforms’; some of us won’t survive that long.

    1. Jane

      I have heard of people having their DLA stopped after being refused ESA. I don’t know why they do this as DLA is not an out of work benefit. I agree, many won’t survive and I beleive that this is the plan of the government, to kill as many people as possible, thus paying out less in benefits.

    2. martin kroupa

      I don’t think you can get jailed for non-payment of council tax. It’s a debt like any other. As such, it would be a subject to recovery by a debt collection firm. They would have to apply to Court for summary warrant, next step would be a charge for payment. They could attach your belongings, freeze your bank account etc. Next would be bankruptcy if you don’t appeal. The government would ultimately lose off, when the debt is written off if the person does not own property or have a disposable income.
      Maybe one could get jailed if he/she declared they do not pay it just for badness. But if they can’t pay it because they have no money as a result of non-payment of benefit by DWP it would clearly not be the case.

      1. Mike Sivier

        I think people could be jailed for non-payment, and I’m sure they have in the past. My recollection is that it was for non-payment of the Poll Tax, which I admit was slightly different, but if a person can be jailed for that, they can be jailed for this.
        Does anybody have first-person observations about this?

  12. martin kroupa

    It would be slavery if people were jailed for their debts. I think we had it in Czechoslovakia back under the communist regime. It was con-damned by the Western democracies, including UK. I was too young to remember details though. And neither former Czechoslovakia had council tax. But people had been talking to have been jailed for their debts. In a democratic regime, the only case I know of someone could be jailed for their debt is when it’s incurred fraudulently. It would put the democracy in UK in question.

  13. Dave J

    Mike, thanks so much for this post. The media seems to have completely ignored this devastating new clause – all the newspaper articles about the benefit changes coming in this month seem totally to ignore this clause 99 issue. I mean, of course it is terrible that under the bedroom-tax, for example, a household will be, on average, losing £14 per week, but under this clause people will have no money at all to live for many months… unless they sign for JSA – many can’t, and of course because it compromises their appeal for ESA and trying to show that they are unfit for work, etc. which is really hard with many mental and behavioral illnesses. I don’t want to get too political either, but I don’t see any non-Conservative politician talking about this horrendous clause, and I don’t hold out any hope of the law to being changed if the Conservative’s are kicked out.

    What is even worse is that the Government have not forced any time limit on the DWP for reconsideration decisions – you could be ringing them months asking if they’ve decided yet. Literally months and months. And the local charge rate ESA phone line is terrible. Local charges – but add that up if you are on the phone for 30 minutes and have to ring them three or four times in a week (as I had to recently) and you can easily spend a lot of money. They absolutely refuse to issue a land line number so that people could use their monthly mobile minutes – the DWP are very canny and sneaky, they know if there was a land line number they’d get more calls, but instead the DWP are prepared to restrict people’s ability to contact them.

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