BERKSHIRE disability campaigners have welcomed the Court of Appeal’s judgement that controversial tests to claim sickness benefit put people with mental health problems at a disadvantage.

The court this month upheld a ruling by tribunal judges in May that Work Capability Assessments (WCA) put people with mental illness, autism and learning difficulties at a disadvantage, rejecting a legal challenge from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Merry Cross, chairwoman of Berkshire Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and vocal anti-cuts campaigner, was delighted by the decision.

She said: “For some people the process is simply too complicated, making it difficult or impossible to understand how to respond to the letters, forms and questions.

“For others it discriminates because it is so dreadfully stressful that it makes their symptoms worse, meaning it is highly unlikely they can even fill in the initial forms successfully, let alone get to the assessment centre or through the face-to-face assessment.”

The case was prompted by a legal challenge brought by two people with mental health problems who claim the system is too difficult to navigate and is discriminatory.

This led to the ruling by the Special Education Needs and Disabilities Tribunal's decision in May that people with mental health problems were at a disadvantage. However, the DWP claims there are safeguards in place to protect the mentally ill.

WCAs were introduced in 2008 and are carried out by private companies on behalf of the Government to assess whether a person is fit for employment or eligible for Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Despite the rulings by the tribunal and Court of Appeal, the Government's Disabled People’s Minister Mike Penning has insisted WCAs would continue as usual until the result of a judicial review into whether they are a breach of the 2010 Equality Act is known next year.

He added: “The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the previous Government. We have made - and continue to make - significant improvements to the WCA process for people with mental health conditions since then.”