Ability to work in focus

How people are assesssed regarding whether they could do some form of work is to change, so more will have to pursue activities related to employment. Charlie Callanan has good and bad news

Typing on a laptop in bed

Changes to the work capability assessment (WCA) are being planned.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made the announcement late last year, following a short consultation. The changes will be introduced no earlier than 2025.

The WCA is crucial to claimants with a disability or long-term health condition. It is the assessment used for employment and support allowance (ESA) and universal credit (UC) to decide whether a claimant has limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA).

This determines: for UC, which, if any, “work-related conditions” the claim must meet; and for ESA whether the claimant is entitled to the benefit at all. If the claimant is found to have LCWRA, they are entitled to a higher rate of UC or ESA.

Mobilising and getting about

The DWP plans to implement the following changes to certain WCA activities and descriptors.

It will make some changes to the “mobilising” activity (relevant to physical disability) and the “getting about” activity (relevant for mental health difficulties).

The DWP’s rationale for the changes is that “new flexibilities in the labour market mean that many people with mobilising limitations can undertake some form of tailored and personalised work-related activity with the right support”.

Changes about “mobilising activity” mean a score of 15 points for being unable to “mobilise” more than 50 metres will no longer place claimants in the LCWRA category.

So, unless a claimant can qualify for LCWRA status through another activity or an alternative route (such as substantial risk: see below), the claimant will be found to have LCW only.

This means they will have to undertake some work-related activity and will not get a top-up to their benefit.

Regarding “getting about” activity, the DWP said it would be changing the points awarded for most descriptors but has not said what these amendments will be.

However, the highest scoring descriptor – for claimants who cannot get to familiar places on their own – will be retained. This descriptor awards 15 points and LCW status (but not LCWRA).

Substantial risk

Substantial risk is also affected. Broadly, this part of the WCA (which is in addition to the main points-based assessment) may apply where the health of a claimant would be at substantial risk if they were found not to have LCWRA so have to take part in work-related activities.

There are plans to amend the rules around claimants who obtain LCWRA status via substantial risk so this will apply only in exceptional circumstances.

The DWP says: “We will specify the circumstances, and physical and mental health conditions, for which LCWRA substantial risk should apply. This will include protecting and safeguarding the most vulnerable, including people in crisis and those with active psychotic illness.”

Disabled people with limited capacity for work related activity will be able to try out work without the threat of their benefit status being reassessed

Some good news

The good news is that, although the DWP consulted on two further WCA activities – “coping with social engagement” and “continence” – it has decided that no changes will be made to these.

A new feature called the “chance to work guarantee” will be introduced for disabled people claiming UC and ESA who have LCWRA status.

The DWP says that this group will be able to try out work without the threat of their benefit status being reassessed.

In addition, they will have no further WCAs except in limited circumstances, including:

  • When a claimant reports a change of circumstances in their health condition
  • If a claimant has been declared as having LCWRA under the new risk provisions
  • Claims where fraud is suspected.

Most of these changes are unlikely to make life easier for people who rely on benefits.