CITIZENS’ Advice Bureaux workers in Kirklees are dealing with a huge surge in benefit claims problems.
During the three months of April to June, CAB offices across the UK dealt with a 77% increase in enquiries relating to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Enquiries about the state benefit rose to 45,257 – up from 25,528 during the same period last year.
The public was also concerned about Carers Allowance, with inquiries up by 17% and Disability Living Allowance, which rose 11%.
Offices in Kirklees reported that they too had seen a massive increase in sickness and disability benefit claim problems.
Chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Since ESA was introduced in October, 2008, we have been monitoring its impact. We have published reports expressing our concern about poor knowledge of ESA rules among Jobcentre Plus and DWP medical staff.
“With so many flaws in the current system we predict the number of people who come for advice on this benefit will only increase.”
David Kilcoyne, advice service manager for the Huddersfield CAB office, said in Kirklees there had been a 67% increase in ESA enquiries.
He said: “We have also seen a massive increase in people wanting to appeal decisions on this benefit.
“In the first quarter of 2009/10 we dealt with 22 enquiries but for the same period this year we’ve had 71 enquiries – that’s a 200% increase.”
A new ‘work capability assessment’ was introduced along with the new ESA to replace the old incapacity benefit two years ago.
Tougher new checks were introduced, including a medical assessment period, in an effort to reduce the national benefit bill.
Mr Kilcoyne said: “The government policy is committed to getting people back to work but the system is confusing and lots of people are challenging their verdicts.
“The work capability assessment is very difficult to pass and inflexible.
“The result is a lot of people are getting knocked off benefits they feel they should be able to claim.”
He added: ““The publicity around people fraudulently claiming hasn’t helped. There are not many of these but I think some are not getting the benefits they should have because they fear being seen as a scrounger.”
There are CAB offices in Dewsbury, Batley and Heckmondwike and outreach sessions in many rural areas.
Mr Kilcoyne said: “The biggest areas of enquiry we get are debt and benefits and the two are connected. As far as we are concerned things keep getting worse. “