Incapacity benefit and the all-work test
Incapacity Benefit (IB) is a benefit for people unable to work because of illness or disability. It replaced Sickness Benefit and Invalidity Benefit from April 1995. Applicants must have paid enough National Insurance contributions to qualify. Incapacity Benefit is not a means-tested benefit so the amount received does to depend on income or savings. It can be claimed by people who have taken early retirement and who are below the State pension age.
Incapacity Benefit is paid at three rates depending on the length of time an applicant has been unable to work.
- Short-term lower rate is paid for the first 28 weeks of incapacity
(if the claimant is not entitled to statutory sick pay).
- Short-term higher rate is paid from week 29 to week 52.
- Long-term rate is paid after 52 weeks.
The short-term higher rate and the long-term rate are taxable.
People who were receiving Sickness or Invalidity Benefit before 13 April 1995 were transferred automatically onto Incapacity Benefit.
The Personal Capability Assessment
After 28 weeks of receiving Statutory Sick Pay or Short-term Incapacity Benefit, there is a Personal Capability Assessment. This assesses a person's ability to do a whole range of jobs, not just teaching and decides whether an applicant is able to work and thus be eligible for Incapacity Benefit.
Most claimants are sent a questionaire to assess their medical condition and may be examined by a doctor.
The Personal Capability Assessment questionnaire asks claimants to tick boxes which most closely match how difficult they find it to perform certain activities. These activities are walking, walking up and down stairs, sitting, rising from sitting, standing, bending and kneeling, manual dexterity, lifting and carrying, reaching, speech, hearing, vision, continence and remaining conscious.
Under each of these activities is a list of related tasks of varying degrees of difficulty. These tasks are called ‘descriptors'. The descriptors are ranked so that within each activity there is a threshold at which the claimant is found to be incapable of work and thus passes the test and a lower threshold at which it is judged that the effects of claimant's conditions begin to impair their ability to work.
For example, under the activity of walking are seven descriptors ranging from ‘cannot walk at all' to ‘no walking problem'. If the claimant cannot walk more than 50 metres they are above the threshold and pass the test. If they cannot walk more than 800 metres this is below the lower threshold and is judged to have no effect on the claimant's ability to work. If walking ability lies somewhere in the middle, this will not be enough to pass the test but can be combined with the claimant's ability under other activities to bring them above the qualifying threshold.
The questionnaire does not tell claimants where the threshold lies. A points system is used by the DSS to determine whether the claimant passes the test. Each descriptor is allocated a fixed number of points, ranging from 0 to 15 points. These points are not shown on the questionnaire. To pass the test a score of at least 15 points is needed. Points are added together from the descriptor with the highest score which applies under each activity. Only the highest score from the two activities ‘walking' and ‘walking up and down stairs' may be counted, together with one descriptor for each other activity.
Filling in the Personal Capability Assessment questionnaire
The following information may be helpful when advising members.
Pain and discomfort are often chronic aspects of a disabled person's life and people with disabilities often learn to minimise this within their everyday life. As a result they may fail to highlight pain or discomfort within their answers to questions on the AW test, whereas someone else who has been more recently confronted with similar pain (and thus more conscious of it while answering the Personal Capability Assessment test) may highlight their discomfort more significantly and pass the test.
Claimants should focus on their problems and difficulties rather than how they deal with those difficulties.