Disabled people need fairer assessments now – government committee supports Sense recommendations

The houses of parliament and big ben, viewed from an elevated angle

Applying for benefits shouldn’t be a stressful experience. You should be able to fill in your application form as independently as possible. Your assessment should be done in a way that is best for you as someone with complex disabilities, while your assessor should have some understanding of your condition or impairment beforehand.

Too often, this simply isn’t the case. The challenges faced by disabled people while applying for benefits is laid out in a report published today by the Work and Pensions Committee. They found that too many disabled people found the assessment process distressing, with assessors often ending up making poor decisions based on the wrong information.

What we told the Committee

We submitted written evidence to the Committee during their year-long inquiry into health assessments for benefits. The Committee then invited us to give oral evidence before Parliament last January.

We told them how people with complex disabilities and those who are deafblind often receive information and forms that don’t meet their information and communication needs. This leaves them reliant on friends, family or support services when they could be making their claims for themselves.

We also explained how people with complex disabilities and those who are deafblind sometimes find that assessors are unsympathetic. Often they don’t understand an applicants’ condition or impairment. This can mean applicants have to appeal their benefits decision before getting the right results. This process often takes months.

What needs to change

Fortunately for the Government, the Work and Pensions Committee’s report recommends how they could make the system fairer today.

So what can the Government do?

More inclusive criteria for the Severe Disability Group

Back in 2021, the Health and Disability Green Paper announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would begin testing a ‘Severe Disability Group’ for those with conditions or impairments that were unlikely to improve.  Providing they met a strict set of criteria, disabled people who claimed both Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Universal Credit (UC)/Employment Support Allowance (ESA) would receive those benefits without having to go through an assessment or fill in a detailed application form.

We told the Committee that we welcomed the ‘Severe Disability Group’, but that we felt that the eligibility criteria excluded people with complex disabilities in work.  The Committee agreed with us, recommending in their report that the Government make this group available to disabled people who claim only PIP.

We hope this is something the DWP puts into practice as it continues to test the Severe Disability Group.

Introducing specialist assessors

The people we support often feel frustrated by the fact that the assessors often do not know anything about their condition or impairment during the assessment. That’s why, in our appearance before the Committee, we called for the DWP to provide assessors with access to specialist expertise before assessing someone with a particular condition or impairment.

Again, the Committee agreed with us. We’re pleased that the Government has committed to piloting the use of specialist assessors, and we’re ready to work with them to make this new approach meets the needs of specialist assessors.

Attaching more weight to evidence from families, friends and support workers

Eligibility for benefits isn’t about whether you have a particular condition or impairment. Instead, it’s about how that impacts your life. Medical evidence can play an important role in illustrating that impact. But so can evidence from the people who support a disabled person.

The Committee agreed with us that the process doesn’t currently attach enough weight to this type of evidence, recommending that the Government review the guidance on this.

Making the system fairer today

There is so much the DWP needs to do to make the assessments system work better for disabled people.

To be fair to them, they have recognised that the current system isn’t working for disabled people. That’s why it recently announced it would scrap the Work Capability Assessment in 2026/27. But that won’t make things any better in the meantime.

Disabled people need fairer assessments now – not in 3 years’ time. That’s why the recommendations set out by the Work and Pensions Committee are so important.

They’ve listened to Sense’s proposals for making the assessment system fairer.

Now it’s time for the Government to do the same.