As NAWRA members are aware, we have been working hard with other organisations to try and resolve the issue of UC50s not being reliably issued following the submission of fitnotes leading to claimants not being put through the WCA and therefore being left for months, or sometimes years, without the LCWRA element being added to their claim. Following our letter to the Minister last year, we had a meeting with officials in January 2023. At this we were told that –
- DWP are in the process of developing a digital UC50 – they believe this will solve the problem but we have sought clarification of the point at which it becomes digital – it needs to be triggered by the fitnote being submitted in order to ensure the WCA is started
- DWP do not currently do any data analysis to assess the scale of the problem themselves – however, they agreed that one of their user researchers would speak to advisers to find out more – some of you have been involved in this – thank you
- A digital solution is still some way away – we therefore asked for a manual solution in the meantime where work coaches put a standard message in a claimant’s journal at the point the first fitnote is issued (this should be a trigger point for reviewing the claim anyway) – this could explain the WCA process and that the claimant should receive a UC50 after 4 weeks at the latest and advise to let their work coach know if the form did not arrive. While not infallible, this would put claimants in a better position than currently.
Separately to our negotiations with the DWP, NAWRA gave both written and oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into health assessments for benefits. The Committee’s report was published on 14 April 2023 and, as a result of our evidence, it put forward a specific recommendation (paragraph 51) –
‘The process of issuing a UC50 form should be automatic, and claimants should not have to remind the Department to send it to them. DWP should investigate the process for issuing UC50 forms urgently and confirm in its response to this Report what steps it is taking to fix any points of failure identified to improve the process while the Work Capability Assessment and UC50 forms remain in use.’
Since then we have had a follow up meeting with officials (on 18 April 2023) and there have been some developments –
- They have undertaken research with five advisers recruited through NAWRA, and two or their clients
- They acknowledge that there are problems reporting deteriorating conditions and that it is not clear how to report changes of circumstances effectively and they are looking at ways to improve this
- They are looking to tighten up the day 1 referral process – this should be initiated if the fit note lasts more than 29 days apparently!
However, they did not yet seem to have addressed the issue of the UC50 just not being issued either when a first fit note is submitted or one highlighting a worsening condition. Nor had they addressed our request that standard wording be put in the journal setting out the WCA process as soon as a fit note is submitted on a manual basis pending a digital solution.
A follow up meeting to look at progress is due to happen in three months.
Thanks to Daphne Hall for all her work on this.