In 2020, the Welfare Benefits Team at Central England Law Centre (CELC) noticed a trend in the ‘UC50’ limited capability for work questionnaire form not being issued to claimants in circumstances where that would have been expected.
CELC has since been investigating and found that this seems to be a widespread problem across the country. It has been difficult to find out exactly how the system is supposed to work but they have found a number of potential weaknesses where it could be going wrong.
Note: when someone claims Universal Credit and submit medical certificates (fit notes) they should be sent a limited capability for work questionnaire (ESA50) to complete and return. Following this they should have a work capability assessment (WCA).
CELC highlights that:
“People who are unable to work due to ill-health or disability but who do not receive a UC50 are unlikely to know they should have received one. This means they are unlikely to contact the DWP to pursue the matter unless they have a benefits adviser who has explained the system to them. Many people do not have access to specialist advice. The consequences for those affected could be serious. They may not receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. In particular, they may lose access to exemption from the benefit cap.“
CELC’s research suggests that the problem in issuing UC50s is a significant national problem. 60% of National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) members who responded to the CELC’s April/July 2021 survey with a percentage figure reported that the percentage of their relevant caseload that had been affected was 50% or more. The respondents worked in locations across the country.
CELC says that while it found several different accounts of the DWP’s process for issuing UC50s, its conclusions about the key steps and weaknesses in the process include:
- The UC50 form is supposed to be generated ‘automatically’ by a computer system (Medical Services Referral System – MSRS) once the claimant has been referred for a work capability assessment (WCA). However, there is some inconsistency in the information available as to whether the DWP or the medical assessment service is responsible for sending the form out.
- The referral for a WCA should be made on day 1 (for certain medical conditions) or day 29 (for all others) following someone reporting their unfitness for work. If the referral for a WCA is not made, no UC50 will be issued.
- Once the claimant has entered the initial fit note dates in their journal this triggers the setting of automated 29-day reminder to DWP staff on the UC computer system to consider a WCA referral. The MSRS and the UC computer systems appear to be independent of one another.
CELC is recommending that the following safeguard is set up to ensure “a fairer process”.
If the UC computer system were to generate a standard letter explaining the ‘unfit for work’ process at the point when a claimant inserted their fit note dates in their journal, they would know to expect receive the UC50, and when, if they remained unfit for work.
If they did not receive the form they would know that something had gone wrong and they could take steps to make sure it was put right. This would make for a much fairer system.
See also this work capability assessment factsheet.