Disability Living Allowance: are benefits being paid "without checks"?

Published: 11th Nov 2011

Both the Daily Mail and The Telegraph returned to controversial territory by querying the amount of evidence that needs to be provided to prove a medical condition of those claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

By the time we arrived in the office this morning Full Fact had received a number of requests to take a closer look at the figures being used in these articles.

The papers made a number of claims on the subject, one of which we have already dealt with here. We deal with the main claims separately below:

-94 per cent of new Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims last year were approved without a face-to-face assessment of their needs by officials.

Mail and Telegraph

-£300 million of disability benefits paid 'without checks'

Telegraph

The leading claim in both articles was that statement that '94 per cent of new claimants receive payment after just filling out paperwork'. This figure is arrived at by combining the number of claimants for whom the primary piece of evidence used was not a medical examination report.

Of the 214,000 newly accepted DLA applicants last year, 94 per cent equals 201,160, close to the 200,000 figure the Daily Mail uses to describe those that have never had a face-to-face assessment.

A table in the DWP release demonstrates the distribution of evidence used as the main argument for the applicant to receive DLA.

This does not give the whole picture however. It should be noted that the document states that:

"More than one piece of further evidence can be used to make the DLA decision. This table indicates the evidence which the Decision Maker considered to be the main source used to make the decision."

It is therefore possible that the number of claimants who have had a medical examination report is higher than the number stated.

Moreover, the claim made that this group have not had a face-to-face assessment is somewhat misleading. While a significant proportion may not have had a meeting with an official, 42 per cent have been assessed by a General Practitioner. A further 36 per cent of claimants' evidence come under the category of 'other'. This category includes:

"Phone calls to the claimant or their Carer, the claimant's Personal Care Support Plan, information from a Social Worker, or from an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or other Allied Health Professional, information obtained as part of the claimant's application for Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance, or information obtained from a Hospital report."

A number of these would include a face-to-face meeting with a trained professional. To infer that both those in the GP and the 'other evidence' groups only have to fill in a form to receive DLA is misleading and for the Telegraph to claim in it's headline that people had received DLA 'without checks' is inaccurate.

'the benefit [is] worth £70 a week'

Daily Mail

The newspaper also makes the claim that DLA is worth £70 a week. This is slightly misleading. According to the DirectGov website whilst the Highest Weekly Rate is £73.60 a week, the Middle Weekly Rate is £49.30 and the Lowest Rate is £19.55 a week.

'70 per cent of existing claimants are on DLA for life without facing any regular checks'

Daily Mail

The Daily Mail is correct in saying that 70 per cent of those receiving DLA are doing so permanently. A DWP analysis confirms that 71 per cent of all those receiving DLA do so on an indefinite basis. This does not necessarily mean that they are no longer in contact with DWP however. As the DirectGov website states:

"If your benefit award is for an indefinite period, you will not usually have to make a renewal claim. Indefinite awards can sometimes be reviewed and you may need to have another medical examination as part of the review."

'Fraud and error statistics show that £600 million is currently wasted on DLA in overpayments.'

Daily Mail

The question of how much is wasted in Fraud and Error as result of DLA is a subject that Full Fact has dealt with before. According to the latest report on the subject- 'Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: Preliminary 2010/11 Estimates' the total amount of money that was overpaid as a result of DLA Fraud and Error was £220 million, of which £60 million was fraud. Total underpayment was £300 million.

So where did the Mail get the figure of £600 million? As ever, the answer was in the small print.

These figures do not include cases where the claimant's needs have been so gradual that it would be 'unreasonable' to expect them to know at which point their entitlement might have changed. DWP states that "these cases do not result in a recoverable overpayment as we cannot identify when the change occurred."

It estimates that money given to claimants under this category in DLA and related premiums is around £600 million, give or take £200 million. This might explain where the Daily Mail arrived at the figure of £600 million.

It should however be emphasised that the DWP views cases in this category as legally correct, and as such should not perhaps be included in a newspaper's assessment of fraud and error.

Conclusion

Both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph were misleading in their description of the evidence that was required to make a successful claim for DLA.

The Daily Mail went further, inaccurately claiming that the DLA weekly allowance was £70 a week, when this in fact is only available or those in the highest band.

The newspaper's claim that £600 million is currently wasted in fraud is also more complicated than its portrayal might suggest.


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