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ESA – Citizens Advice Bureaux see sickness and disability benefit problems soar

4 July 2012

Citizens Advice Bureaux around the country are reporting a massive rise in problems with ESA (Employment and Support Allowance), the benefit paid to people who are too ill or disabled to work.

New figures published today show that ESA advice shot up by an unprecedented 71 per cent - to more than 97,000 problems - in the three months January to March 2012 compared with the same quarter last year.

This makes ESA the fastest growing advice issue dealt with by CAB advisers, accelerating its steep rise each quarter since it was introduced in October 2008 to replace incapacity benefit for new claimants. The increase in ESA problems more than outweighs the drop in incapacity benefit problems.

In the same three month period, bureaux recorded an 82 per cent increase in advice about appeals against ESA decisions. Over a quarter of all advice given about ESA concerns appeals.

A significant proportion of the increase in ESA problems has arisen from the reassessment of people on the old incapacity benefit replaced by ESA, which began in April 2011.

Benefit advice of all types is up six per cent compared to the same quarter last year, and it now makes up a record 34 per cent of the total volume of advice given in Citizens Advice Bureaux, making it the number one issue for CAB clients

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

"This is a very worrying trend.  ESA is giving rise to a far higher volume of appeals than any other benefit. As well as the huge additional stress and hardship this causes our clients, it also puts severe pressure on our already over-stretched service.  Our specialist advisers in bureaux are being overwhelmed by the volume of these complex and time-consuming appeals.

"Things are likely to get even worse when sweeping legal aid cuts come into force next spring. These will have a devastating impact on our capacity to provide specialist welfare benefits advice and casework – just as the biggest shake-up in the benefits system since the welfare state came into being begins to get underway."

Earlier this year, Citizens Advice published research indicating that many seriously ill and disabled people are being wrongly denied benefits because of serious inaccuracies in an unacceptably high number of medical assessment reports used to decide who qualifies for ESA.

The same medical assessment reports are now increasingly being used in deciding who should get Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a non-means-tested benefit that helps disabled people meet the additional costs of their disability. And in future, medical assessment reports will be even more crucial in determining who gets help through the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) due to replace DLA as part of the government’s welfare reform programme. An ESA award will become the gateway to all disability-related support within Universal Credit, the new single payment that will from next year replace most means-tested benefits.

Gillian Guy said:

"Getting medical assessments right first time is absolutely essential to ensuring that seriously ill and disabled people entitled to support through the benefits system get that support when they need it, and that it is the right kind of support to meet their needs.

"It’s vital that regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of reports is put in place before medical reports are given an even more central role in deciding who is entitled to disability benefits and how much help they get."

Notes to editors

  1. Client statistics are published quarterly by Citizens Advice in Advice Trends.
  2. Official figures show that 38 per cent of appeals against decisions not to award ESA are overturned in the claimant’s favour. Source: Excel .
  3. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, 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 information in England and Wales see
  4. 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. For online advice and information see
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.9 million problems from April 2011 to March 2012. For full 2011/2012 service statistics see:
  6. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable. (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
  7. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,300 service outlets across England and Wales.