It used to be that there were rules called “linking rules” for people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit (IB), which has been updated to become Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Put simply, if someone stopped claiming IB or ESA but found that they needed to start claiming again within a certain period of time, then their “new” benefit would simply be linked back to the “old” benefit they received – they were “linked”.
If someone came off IB or ESA but didn’t take work, the linking rule was in place for 12 weeks. If someone came off IB or ESA and took up work or training that didn’t work out, the linking rule was in place for 104 weeks.
What’s more, during the transition phase from moving everyone from IB to ESA, people falling under the linking rules would have “transitional protection”, so even though IB technically didn’t exist, people falling under the linking rules would move back to an equivalent benefits rate under ESA.
(Full details of the previous linking rules are available here.)
As the government seeks to move people to the tougher ESA benefit, as of 31 January 2011 the “transitional protection” has been removed. As the DWP itself says:
Before [31 January], the existing linking rules will continue to apply, so a former IB recipient who puts in a [benefit] claim before this date (and in respect of a period before this date) which links back to a previous award will go back onto their previous IB, and will fall to be reassessed (with a view to conversion to ESA) in the fullness of time, acquiring transitional protection, where appropriate.
Whereas all claims for an IB made on or after this date will be treated as new claims to ESA (even if they would otherwise have linked back to the previous IB award), and will therefore fall outside of the scope of the reassessment exercise and get no transitional protection. [Emphasis added]
This seemingly innocuous change removes a key protection for people currently on IB who may wish to take up the opportunity of work, with the relative safety net of the linking rules to fall back on.
Probably achieving quite the opposite of what the government wants to do – it moving people off Incapacity Benefit and into work – it could act as a demotivator in looking for work.
(For those interested in legislation behind this, the previous Labour government – in its welfare Green Paper in 2006 – doubled the linking rule from 52 weeks to 104 (see paragraph 100 here). Linking rules were enshrined in the subsequent legislation – Regulation 145 of the Employment and Support Regulations 2008 and Regulation 2 of the Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2008. The current government has removed these provisions through Regulation 23 of the Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) (Existing Awards) Regulations 2010.)