Disabled claimants are left fighting their battle against a system so against them that they are being forced back into the workplace.
The medical reports that health professionals can offer can make a huge difference to the outcome of an appeal.
Doctors now say, however, that the number asking for help has reached such a level that some GPs are refusing to provide extra information to back benefits claims, while others are charging patients for reports. GPs – who earn around £100,000 – say the Government is not paying for this extra work.
The time it takes to complete these reports are taking up too much of their time.
Some patients have been charged as much as £165 for a letter, according to Citizens Advice Scotland.
Claimants who are appealing after being refused sickness benefits are advised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to submit any information which could help their case, such as letters from GPs.
Doctors blame the new bedroom tax, as more and more patients are asking for letters to back up why they need the extra bedroom, to avoid having their benefits cut, by confirming they need a relative or carer to stay overnight to help them.
The issue will be raised at the British Medical Association’s annual conference of Scottish Local Medical Committees (LMC) this Friday, which discusses key concerns affecting general practice.
Dr Georgina Brown, a GP and LMC secretary for Glasgow, pointed out that doctors already routinely sent information to the DWP as part of the application for sickness benefits, which are currently being overhauled under welfare reforms.
But she said problems often arose when patients went to fit-to-work assessments which are carried out by private firm Atos Healthcare on behalf of the Government.
“Patients are complaining that either the doctor didn’t look at them or they didn’t feel they got a good explanation (of their decision) and are coming to us asking for letters of support,” she said.
“The DWP should not be directing patients to get letters of support from the GP, because the DWP already has the information we send in. A large number of GPs are saying to patients ‘we can’t do these letters any more, because we don’t have time to do them, we can’t get them done by the time you need them and the information they are asking for has already been sent’.”
Brown said around 40% of benefits appeals are successful – with some cases won using medical information submitted on headed paper from a doctor which had already been sent to the DWP, suggesting it was a “flawed system”.
Brown acknowledged that GPs can charge for reports which are not part of their core NHS work.
Dianne Jackson, volunteer manager of Stirling Council on Disability, said: “Some doctors are refusing point blank to provide evidence at all, some are saying you can have a basic report which costs £10, and if you want an enhanced report it can cost you up to £85.
The DWP said claimants were advised to submit any evidence which could help their appeal, but it was not a requirement and GPs could charge for such reports.
A DWP spokeswoman added: “To assess someone’s ability to work correctly, and ensure they get the support they need, we need to make sure we get all available evidence.”