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Citizens Advice Bureau - Sick and disabled people facing “catch-22” as GPs charge to help with appeals against ATOS assessments

Some GP surgeries are charging up to £115 to assist sick and disabled people in their appeals against incorrect work capability assessments (WCA) carried out by ATOS, with a number of practices refusing to provide medical evidence, Citizens Advice has revealed.

The national charity has seen evidence showing that many doctors across England and Wales do not consider it part of their role to provide free medical evidence to their patients in appeals against Department for Work and Pensions verdicts  Without independent medical evidence from a GP, many sick and disabled people who may be entitled to support are unable to compile their case to appeal wrong decisions at tribunals.

ATOS, the company responsible for providing the vast majority of medical assessments for people claiming Employment Support Allowance, was last month criticised for poor performance. Incorrect assessments leading to appeals have cost taxpayers £64 million to resolve, with sick and disabled people facing an uphill battle to get a correct assessment.

The Chief Executive of the charity today warns that the practice of charging for independent evidence is widespread and is a “catch-22” for disabled people, many of whom face the prospect of an incorrect assessment by ATOS followed by an expensive appeals process.

A number of Citizens Advice Bureaux have reported that some surgeries are refusing to provide evidence, whilst some doctors are only prepared to provide template letters of support to their patients.  Research by the charity shows that other surgeries require payment of anywhere between £10 and £155 to provide medical evidence as part of the appeals process.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“Lots of people entitled to Employment Support Allowance are being denied it unfairly. Wrong assessments prevent people from getting the financial support they’re entitled to and being charged up to £115 for medical evidence to help appeal a bad decision puts sick and disabled people in a catch-22 situation.

“Without independent medical evidence in appeals against assessments by the notoriously unreliable ATOS, sick and disabled people are being left to fight against bad decisions with one hand tied behind their back.

“Medical evidence is absolutely vital to proving when ATOS has made a wrong assessment. Our clients need support in their efforts to get fair treatment and it is worrying that many doctors feel they don’t have the time to provide it.

“No one doubts the pressure on the NHS at the moment but by charging for a medical assessment, some GPs are adding unnecessary extra anxiety.  In some cases, sick and disabled people are facing the double blow of a wrong assessment followed by a demand for money to get the evidence they need to overturn that decision.

“Work Capability Assessments are stressful experiences and going through the appeals process makes things even worse. Without the support of medical evidence, many people’s legitimate appeals against wrong decisions are significantly weakened, leaving them unable to get a fair outcome.”

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors

1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.

2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at www.adviceguide.org.uk

4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 or 08454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers

5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends

6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 20,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.