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Half of GP surgeries providing patients with medical evidence for ESA appeals charge a fee

Citizens Advice

A new survey of GP surgeries shows the financial cost people face when appealing ‘fit for work’ decisions, with many hit by fees for medical evidence. The Chief Executive of Citizens Advice says the results highlight the obstacles people face when appealing against Work Capability Assessments (WCA) decisions, which determine an individual’s eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Sick and disabled people can apply for ESA, which is financial support to help them live independently.

The WCA has come under fire for unreliable assessments, expensive appeals procedures and long waits for applicants. During 2012/13, 43 per cent of WCA decisions were overturned in favour of claimants after an appeal. As part of the appeals processes against refused applications, people can include medical evidence provided by GPs or other health professionals to support their claim.

Despite the importance of medical evidence in supporting appeals, the charity’s research highlights the difficulties many people have in accessing their records. The most common reasons for GPs to turn down requests for medical evidence were a lack of time and that they did not feel it was their job to do so.

The results of the survey show that amongst the GP surgeries surveyed:

•15 per cent turn down requests from all patients for evidence

•14 per cent only act on requests for evidence from some patients

•50 per cent which provide evidence charge patients for doing so

•61 per cent which ask for payment for medical evidence charge between £10 and £50

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

"The Work Capability system is not fit for work. The odds are stacked against sick and disabled people, who are paying a heavy health, emotional and financial price for ministers' failure to get support right.

"People who turn to the state for help with illness have every right to expect that support will be there for them. Unfortunately far too many people face a double-edged sword of a poor assessment and a charge to appeal against it. Ministers need to urgently address this totally misguided process where people can be judged fit for work without any medical evidence to back up that decision.

"Too often GPs charge people to access basic medical evidence. When sickness or disability limits someone’s ability to go out and work, being asked for money to help lodge an appeal can be a serious blow. Citizens Advice works closely with medical professionals to try to ensure people can get fair treatment and strong support. If doctors are unable to provide help due to a lack of time or resources then it is Government’s responsibility to ensure the necessary support is made available.

“The WCA process is putting pressure on GPs, charities and most importantly, ordinary people in need of a helping hand. The buck stops with ministers, who need to urgently fix this system.”

ESA is now the biggest single issue which Citizens Advice clients require help with. In the past year the charity dealt with nearly half a million issues relating to the benefit, with almost 1.5 million problems reported to the charity since 2008.

The survey was undertaken by Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country as part of the charity’s Fit for Work campaign, which seeks to reform the WCA process so sick and disabled people can get fair treatment and strong support. The survey received responses from 173 GP surgeries, which collectively serve more than 1.2 million patients.

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