Why does it take the DWP so long to process sick notes? Why must people put up with such useless systems?

Feel free to email your views and experiences on this if you don’t want to leave a comment. I know many of you have canvassed this topic in recent times:

In the past fortnight, I’ve called the DWP’s 0345 600 0723 Universal Credit line twice to ask about the best place to send the sick notes (DWP calls them fit notes I think) which excuse benefit claimants from jobsearch activities. Sick notes are crucial when a Universal Credit claimant is sick or injured. They explain why people can’t work or carry out jobsearch activities. Benefits can be sanctioned if people miss job activities without a medical note.

Problem is this. People raise concerns with me about sick notes and other communications to the DWP not being properly recorded, or taking ages to process, or being processed out of order, or apparently not even arriving when posted to the DWP. God knows what’s going on with all of this. You should see the masses of paperwork that goes to and from the DWP and benefit claimants. Keeping track is a nightmare.

Last week, I called the DWP after speaking to a volunteer at South Chadderton foodbank. Her 40-year-old son had his Universal Credit sanctioned in June. He’d been about to start a warehouse job in May when he broke his wrist. His sick note from his doctor should have excused him from the placement and jobsearch activities. Something went wrong. He was sanctioned. His mother wondered if there’d been a problem with the processing of his sick note. Nobody was sure at the time of interview. The DWP still hadn’t sent a letter explaining the reasons for the sanction. People were still trying to guess what had happened.

Because I’d spoke to this woman and because others have raised this issue, I decided to call the Universal Credit line to ask general questions about the best place to send sick notes. I especially wanted to know if people everywhere could drop their sick notes in at their jobcentres, or if they should send them in to the DWP’s Freepost address.

Four points emerged from those phone calls (one made on 14 July and the other on 17 July). All four were cause for concern, so I’m putting them here. Feel free to weigh in.

1) The DWP seems to have a sick-note processing backlog of some description, so claimants must allow time for sick notes to be processed. The officer I spoke to last Monday said that UC claimants should allow up to seven days for sick notes to be processed: “because obviously they’re [staff are] so busy.” People online report delays of ten days for DWP mail processing.

That “obviously they’re so busy,” is a line I’m sick of hearing. Why are delays in this area considered so acceptable? Why must benefit claimants always wait and wait before their information is dealt with? The people who use these so-called systems are on extremely limited incomes. Those incomes depend on the right paperwork getting to the right people IMMEDIATELY. Everything can go wrong if it doesn’t. Claimants could be sanctioned if they missed a jobsearch activity while an explanatory sick note was stuck in a pile. If there are processing delays because staff are “so busy,” someone needs to hire more staff.

2) The officer on I spoke to on 14 July said some jobcentres could not process sick notes. The officer I spoke to on 17 July said that all jobcentres could process sick notes, so people could drop their sick notes into their jobcentres. I have no idea which answer was right, or if either was. I find this sort of conflicting information completely unacceptable. It wrongfoots people who must use the system.

3) People must be sure to write their National Insurance numbers on the front and back of notes they send in. This rang more alarm bells. I’ve attend jobcentre meetings with people who’ve been told to post their sick notes to the DWP, but have not been told to put their National Insurance numbers on their notes. Some people would work that out for themselves and know that they’d need to include information that connected a note to their claim. Other would not know that. I attended meetings at Kilburn jobcentre last year with a woman with learning and literacy difficulties whose claim was closed when she missed jobsearch meetings because she was sick. She would not have known to add her NI information to a sick note. Nobody told her to do that at any of our meetings. Nobody offered to do it for her.

4) The DWP uses some sort of mail opening service to open and upload sick notes sent to the DWP Freepost Universal Credit address (“a mail opening unit,” the officer I spoke to said). Staff there upload the notes to the system, whatever that means. I realise that there have been plenty of stories and FOIs published about the DWP’s mail-opening-and-uploading services in the past few years. I’m publishing this one, because I have ongoing questions and have no idea where things are at with the DWP’s processing of private information as we speak. Who gets to see this personal information? Where and what are the processing backlogs? What are the staff turnover rates?

I’d like to go in and see these mail opening services in action. Maybe this post will spark an invitation.

For the record: I rang the DWP press office for answers to some of these points. I wanted clarity on questions these calls raised. The DWP press office was unhelpful in the extreme. I was told to submit my questions via FO: “I I’m afraid your request isn’t the sort that we would deal with in the press office, as you’re asking for information rather than a response to a story.” That was a new one on me. And a useless one, for that matter. You have to wait 20 days for an FOI response, which is hardly fast-turnaround stuff. I’ve submitted one FOI request and have another ready to go. I asked the press office if it would answer a couple of questions in the meantime and was ignored.

16 thoughts on “Why does it take the DWP so long to process sick notes? Why must people put up with such useless systems?

  1. My neighbour who is on UC was given a six month Sicknote on 25-04 this year and as she had an existing interview three days later handed it to her work coach.
    He made an entry on his computer and returned it to her.
    Around a week later a to do appeared on her UC account saying that she should send her Sicknote if she had one to her local JCP within seven days or face possible sanctions.
    This she did.
    The to do. Remained on her account.
    Around ten days after posting the Sicknote arrived back having been written on with date of receipt and stamped as received two days later.
    Now her claim manager in a JCP some 250 miles away starts making entries in her journal requesting that the Sicknote be sent to her local JCP as it has still not been reviewed.
    After a few choice messages on her journal from me (which ended with her being threatened with sanctions if I continued)
    I sent the Sicknote directly to the JCP 250 miles away.
    It seems to have been processed now but she did tell me yesterday that it has arrived back yet again in the post.
    As my neighbour has quite a few physical and mental problems this has caused more stress and anxiety than she has anyway.
    It has also taken since March until now to actually get her UC more or less properly sorted out as getting information from DWP is virtually impossible at the best of times.

  2. They are bastards. Not just unhelpful press officeers, but the whole system is unfit for purpose & that can’t be helped by government cuts to dwp staff. I saw a man at the Jobcentre yesterday on crutches, moving slowly, obviously in some pain, he told me he has rheumatoid arthritis but has been assessed as fit for work, his ESA stopped & he’s had to go on JSA while he Appeals. Even his fingers are swollen & painful, so he can’t even type to do jobsearch. Fit for work, my arse, who’s going to employ him? It’s absurd. I wished him luck with his Appeal, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take before he gets sorted. It’s a national disgrace & outrage what the Tories have done to our Social Security system.

  3. A few years back I was signed off sick and apparently sick notes handed in at our local jobcentre were picked up snd dropped to someplace else snd the JCP in that town only picked them up once per week!

  4. I am so glad I don’t need sick notes, and haven’t for the last 7 years! Last time I asked for a sick note the GP asked for how long and I said 12 months, I wasn’t joking either, he wrote one for 3 months but in that time I had an assessment and was found unfit for work, the last 4 years without any recall or ESA50.

    Mark Chandler I would copy both sides of the sick note before sending it in then contact the JCP by email and attach the two scans telling them attached is a copy of both sides of the sick note dated, and for XX months.
    This will be saved in the sent folder, I never use their email except to get the emai address, I then attach the two scans to the email and a quick message of what is attached and that the original has been posted on date.

    trev this person should tell the DWP and assesment company he wants the HP and Decision Maker(s) at the tribunal to answer questions. They hide behind names like CDHA so it is harder to find them on CEOmail, just find them and tell them you want the people there? The best they will do is a solicitor to defend the DWP, who you should ask one question; “what is your field of medical expertise?” He doesn’t have any so how can he defend against the questions you want to ask. But they should have been asked of the HP before they started the F2F. Disability Analyst is not a recognised qualification so should be countered with “what of the 3 organisations GMC, NMC, HCPC, recognises it as a specialist qualification? NONE that’s the answer.

    My local job centre has closed but it is still used as a postal address for this side of the city. It just proves that all mail for the postal addresses used by the jobcentres are not real they are opened by the royal mail opening unit then shipped to somewhere else and in my case it isn’t the closed jobcentre!

  5. Many thanks for replies, all, and for emails sent. It’s extremely helpful to getting as wide an understanding as possible of these so-called systems. Something needs to be done.

  6. Wow amazing stories I had a heart attack on Good Friday and on the Tuesday after I was declared fit for work thankfully my employer refused to have me back at work but If i worked for an unscrupulous employer who knows what would have happened to me…

    • It might be that your employer is thinking about the consequences of you dying on the job when you have been told you are not fit to go back to work. The DWP look at any job you can do even if it means retraining working on a checkout might be OK for some but you might be highly skilled and the manager at a supermarket might think you would be after his job in time by giving you a chechout operators job.

  7. its a know fact that atos or new name medical assessment centres are there to remove as much as they can from peoples benefits they were paid around £312 million over 3 years they have up to date been paid over £58 million on top of this and been noted for using none rejistered medical staff . get assessors full name if you go for an assessment all staff should have a and go onto midwifery / nurses government site. better if you can get there registered number this can be obtained by ringing the companies customer service they have to give you it by law if it shows on site to be not registered make a complaint to the midwifery council maximus and capita are the same these two are American companies atos is French owned

  8. evry 3 months I get a letter askign for another sick not. I am in reviept of PIP as well as ESA for two years.

    Why do they keep askign for sick nnotes. It is very difficault for me to keep going to my doctors and then the DWP losing my sick note again and again

    • Ask your doctor to write a letter explaining why you are not fit work work and to stop harassing you for fit notes. It took a written letter from my son’s doctor for DWPs to stop harassing my son. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, Agoraphobia and extreme social anxiety.

  9. I’m going through so much stress at the moment just trying to get my sick note sorted out. I was on esa and pip . 3 months ago had to go for assessments got turned down which is not unusual I’ve been on esa and pip for about 9 yrs I’m used to going through the long drawn out appeals process. Anyway forced to go back on job seekers allowance .decided to get a sick note from my doctors and ask at jobcentre where to send it was told bring it in and we will sort it out .took it down was told no you have to send it to esa.sent it of on 3 July got a text about a week later saying they had received it and action will be taken.I phoned up jobcentre same day because it was the day I had to go down .was told to still come down and close my claim a few days later.wasn’t sure so phoned esa and they said no you still have to keep going down to jobcentre and still keep sending sick notes in ? I said what’s the point if I still have to go down jobcentre he said because it will make my appeals look good if I keep sending sick notes. ? I wasn’t happy with that explanation so phoned up again and this time was told to go on universal credit and put sick note in with them. I’ve given up phoning now sent a letter today asking for someone to explain the right way to go about putting a sick note in because I don’t think any of the departments know what the hell they are doing.

    • Perhaps everyone should just send their sick notes directly to Esther McVey ! A few years back I used to email all my jobsearch evidence to Lord Freud every fortnight just for the hell of it.

  10. Hi I’ve had to give the job I loved up due to tennis elbow and pain in the bottom of my back. That was end of may I was a care assistant and have done this for 32 years I’ve never been told about uc50 ever before bearing in mind I’ve had 2 brain surgery’s in the past and had to go back to work both times 12 week after surgery I wasent ready but couldn’t afford to stay on the sick well any way a lady from the council told me about the uc50 I handed a sick note in on the 14th July and put it on my journal and I still haven’t heard anything my work coach said it might generate when I hand my next sick note what’s that supposed to mean answers to confused. com🤔🤦‍♀️

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