Government consults on changes to benefits Work Capability Assessment

4 mins read

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Tags: universal credit, consultation, personal independence payment, work capability assessment, employment and support allowance

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The UK government has announced a number of proposed reforms to the Work Capability Assessment.

What is the Work Capability Assessment?

The Work Capability Assessment is a Department of Work and Pensions medical assessment. The DWP currently uses it to decide:

  • Whether a person with health problems is expected to look for work as part of a claim for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
  • Whether that person will receive higher payments as a disabled person part of their Universal Credit or ESA.

There are three possible outcomes of a Work Capability Assessment:

  • The DWP finds you fit to work.
  • The DWP finds you to have a “limited capability for work”.
  • The DWP finds you to have a “limited capability for work and work related activity’(LCWRA).”

If you are in the last group, the DWP cannot ask you to meet any work-related conditions like job seeking or training while claiming benefits. You are also entitled to an extra amount of benefit. 

What changes is the DWP proposing?

The government has already said that it intends to scrap the Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a single disability assessment – the PIP assessment. However, that change is not expected to take place until 2026/27 at the earliest.

In the meantime, the government is now proposing making changes to the Work Capability Assessment from 2025.

The government argues that reform of the Work Capability Assessment is justified on the basis that flexible and homeworking opportunities have changed the world of work significantly in recent years. To that end, it is consulting on several specific changes that will see a drop in the number of people the DWP assesses as having LCWRA.


In looking at how the Work Capability Assessment deals with people who have difficulties in mobilising, it is consulting on whether it should:

  • Remove the mobilising activity entirely; or
  • Amend the LCWRA mobilising descriptor to bring it in line with the equivalent descriptor in PIP, so that people will need to have difficulties in walking 20 metres rather than 50 metres in order to have a limited capability for work; or
  • Reduce the points awarded for the limited capability for work (LCW) mobilising descriptors. 

Getting about

Under the Work Capability Assessment, a disabled adult can score points for difficulties in getting around without the assistance of another person, for example due to anxiety problems. The government is consulting on the options of:

  • Removing the ‘getting about’ activity entirely; or 
  • Reducing the number of points awarded for difficulties in getting about. 

Coping with social engagement

Under the Work Capability Assessment, a disabled person can score points for difficulties they have in engaging socially with other people face-to-face. The government is consulting on:

  • Removing the ‘coping with social engagement’ activity entirely; or
  • Reducing the points awarded for LCW descriptors for coping with social engagement. 

Absence or loss of bowel/bladder control

Currently, people who experience a loss of bowel or bladder control score points under the Work Capability Assessment. Depending on the severity of the issue, the DWP may be find them to have a LCWRA.

The government is consulting on whether it should:

  • Remove the continence activity entirely; or
  • Amend the LCWRA continence descriptor so that claimants are required to experience symptoms ‘daily’ rather than ‘weekly’; or
  • Reduce the points awarded for the LCW continence descriptors. 

Substantial risk to health 

Under current rules, the DWP can still treat someone as having a LCWRA even if they do not qualify under the normal tests. This occurs when the DWP decides there is a “substantial risk to their physical or mental health or to the physical or mental health of someone else if [they are] found not to have a LCWRA”. 

The government is consulting on whether to:

  • Amend the substantial risk definition so it does not apply in cases where a person could take part in “tailored or a minimal level of work preparation activity and/or where reasonable adjustments could be put in place to enable that person to engage with work preparation”; or 
  • Remove the LCWRA risk criteria entirely, so that anyone who would meet the current threshold would instead be treated as having a limited capability for work only. 

How to respond

If you’d like to respond, visit Open Consultation: Work Capability Assessment: activities and descriptors

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 30 October 2023.