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Discrimination when claiming benefits

You should be able to make a claim for benefits in a way that is accessible to you. If you're disabled, you have the right to reasonable adjustments.

If you are asked to do something that is not accessible to you because of your condition, you are entitled to reasonable adjustments. It is discrimination if they do not give you reasonable adjustments.

Start by making a written complaint. This could be to any of the following:

  • your assessor, either Independent Assessment Service (IAS) or Capita
  • your job centre or job coach
  • Universal Credit online journal

You should get a written response to your complaint. If you disagree with it, you can complain to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

If you disagree with the DWP's decision, you can complain to the Independent Case Examiner.

If you disagree with the Independent Case Examiner, you can appeal.

Recognising discrimination

The Equality Act gives disabled people the right to 'reasonable adjustments' that make applying for benefits accessible.

Not making reasonable adjustments is discrimination.

This applies to:

  • job centres
  • the DWP
  • organisations working with the DWP

Disability discrimination and welfare benefits (Citizens Advice)

Reasonable adjustments

There is no set definition of 'reasonable'. It depends on the situation, how your condition affects you and what you need. It often means:

  • changing how you apply for benefits
  • getting extra support

Giving you application forms in different formats can be a reasonable adjustment. For example, Braille, large print or audio.

Other examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • being able to change appointment times if your condition means that you might miss scheduled appointments
  • venues with level access and wide doors if you use a wheelchair
  • extra time for your appointment if you need it
  • a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter
  • home visits for benefits assessments
  • changing appointment times

Changing appointment times

If you need to change your appointment time because of your condition, this is a reasonable adjustment.

If the reason is not because of your condition, it's not a reasonable adjustment. It may be harder to get a new appointment.

As a reasonable adjustment

Plan ahead. If your condition means that you may need to reschedule appointments or assessments as a reasonable adjustment, contact the people you are meeting. Do this as early as you can.

For example:

Your condition affects you more on some days than others. When it's bad, you cannot travel.

When you get an appointment for a PIP assessment, you write to the assessor and say:

"I have multiple sclerosis. My condition affects me more on some days than others. When it's bad, I cannot leave my bed.

If I am unable to come to my appointment, I will contact you as soon as I know I cannot come. This may not be until the day of the appointment. Being able to change an appointment time because of my condition would be a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010."

If you cannot go to an appointment, get in contact as soon as you can and:

  • say why you cannot make your appointment
  • ask for another appointment.

For example:

"As I told you, when my condition is bad, I am unable to leave the house. My condition is bad today. I will not be able to come to today's appointment. I am writing to request a new appointment as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010."

If you do not get a new appointment time or have your benefits sanctioned, you should make a written complaint.

Not as a reasonable adjustment

You can change an appointment time once, if it's not related to your condition.

To change your appointment more than once, you will probably need to show that you have a 'good reason'.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

If you need adjustments when you apply for benefits, ask for them. You may need to contact different people depending on your situation:

  • assessments: the organisation that contacted you about your assessment, either the Independent Assessment Service (IAS) or Capita
  • Universal Credit: writing in your online journal
  • job centre: your job coach

The person you contact probably will not have read your application form. Say:

  • how your condition affects you
  • what adjustments you need and why
  • that you will not be able to meet without those adjustments

If you will not be able to meet without the adjustments you need, say this too.

Ask in a letter or email and keep a copy

If you do not get the adjustments you need, this could help you to appeal or prove it's discrimination.

For example:

"I have a hearing impairment. This means that I cannot hear what people are saying unless I am in a small room without background noise or echo.

The Equality Act 2010 says that I have the right to reasonable adjustments. As a reasonable adjustment, I will need to have my assessment in a small quiet room. If you do not provide this adjustment, I will not be able to complete my assessment."

Written complaints

If you do not get reasonable adjustments, this could be discrimination. Harassment is also discrimination.

Make a written complaint as soon as you can. Tell them that you feel you've been discriminated against and why. This gives them the chance to review their actions and resolve the issue with you quickly.

Provide as much information about the incident as possible. For example:

  • Explain the issues you had completing forms.
  • Tell them why it was hard for you to access the venue.
  • Give details of the time of your appointment.
  • Provide names and job titles of the people who interviewed you.
  • Share details of what happened and why you feel it was discrimination.
  • Tell them how the application or interview made you feel.
  • Let them know how you want the matter resolved.

Who to contact

Who you contact will depend on what it's about.

  • assessments: the organisation that contacted you about your assessment, either the Independent Assessment Service (IAS) or Capita
  • job centre: write to your job coach
  • Universal Credit: write in your online journal

Complaining to the DWP

You should get a response to your written complaint. If you think the decision is discrimination, you should complain to the DWP.

Complain as soon as you can. Some organisations have time limits for complaints. Use the information from your written complaint and keep copies of any documents or evidence you send.

How you complain depends on the benefit you are applying for.

Keep in contact with the organisation and ask them to give you updates. Ask when you can expect a decision.

Complaints procedure (GOV.UK)

Complaining to the Independent Case Examiner

You should get a written 'final decision' from the DWP about your complaint. If you feel it's discrimination, then you need to complain to the independent case examiner. Include a copy of the letter from the DWP.

How to bring a complaint to the Independent Case Examiner (GOV.UK)

Making an appeal

You can appeal the 'final' decision made by the Independent Case Examiner.

There can be up to 3 stages of appeal, depending on how far you want to go in challenging the DWP's decision.

These stages are:

  1. mandatory reconsideration
  2. a tribunal appeal and hearing
  3. further appeals

Challenging a decision about benefits

You can get support if you want it.

Equality Advisory and Support Service

Scope's online community

You may also find it helpful to chat to our online community members to get support. You could ask about about their experiences of disability discrimination while applying for benefits.

Scope's online community

Last reviewed by Scope on: 11/09/2020

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