Charities Speak Out On Work Capability Assessment

Expert Assesses Impact Of Proposals On Employers

11.05.2011

A range of third sector bodies across the UK have joined forces to put forward recommendations on how the capability of workers is assessed under new sickness benefit tests.

Charities including Parkinson’s UK, the MS Society and Colitis UK have raised concerns over the current Work Capability Assessment and how it examines whether people with long-term illnesses are able to return to the workplace and if they are entitled to any benefits.

The bodies have suggested a number of recommendations, including the use of more questions to those seeking benefits to better understand their individual conditions and changes to tests to recognise how pain and other problems can impact on the individual’s ability to work.

The reason for the concern is that situations can arise where an individual is denied benefits - either in full or in part - because they are assessed as being fit to return to work when arguably they are unable to do so.

Commenting on the changes under the benefits regime, Glenn Hayes, a Partner and employment expert at Irwin Mitchell, stated that the consideration of such changes, whilst welcomed, is unlikely to impact greatly on the obligations that companies already face in relation to rehabilitating individuals back in to work.

“A number of people’s lives are touched by serious illnesses that impact on their ability to return to work and there are already many measures in place to ensure that employers take reasonable steps to guarantee that such employees are treated fairly and not simply forgotten because of the length of time they have been off work,” he outlined.

“Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 in order to ensure that all members of staff are given the support and resources to perform tasks to the best of their abilities whilst at work.

“In addition, they also need to remove any obstacles that cause those individuals a disadvantage compared to those who do not have that illness, such as adjusting an individual’s current job or considering an alternative role that will allow them the opportunity to return to work.  

“Any firms that fail to meet such standards run the very serious risk of discriminating against more vulnerable members of the workforce with potentially unlimited compensation available in the most serious cases.”

“For those unable to return (even after adjustments) or whose employment is terminated as a result, changes to the benefits system allowing individuals who genuinely cannot return to work the right to proper benefits have to be a welcome change to the currently criticised system.”