What you will read may be very distressing for you, but we are looking at the worst-case scenario and identifying measures to help you and other claimants. It would be good to have some feedback on the Health and Work Conversations from people who have made an ESA claim. More we know about it, and more we can fight this. What you should not do, is to decide not to claim ESA. That is what DWP wants you to do.
Some documents released by the DWP have shown the direction of travel in terms of claiming ESA under UC.
Under the old regime, a person wishing to claim ESA was placed in the ESA assessment phase, attracting the lowest ESA rate (JSA rate), and also no conditionality, and this until a Work Capability Assessment could decide whether the claimant was fit or unfit for work.
The Work and Health Conversation
Under Universal Credit, a person wishing to claim ESA will be first called for a Health and Work Conversation (HWC). This conversation is basically a Work Focus Interview, and is mandatory, which means that a claimant can be sanctioned for not attending. Attending does not only mean being physically present at the interview but also fulfilling all the requirements set by DWP for a WFI:
Regulation 57 of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008:
57.—(1) A claimant is regarded as having taken part in a work-focused interview if the claimant—
(a) attends for the interview at the place and at the date and time notified in accordance with regulation 56;
(b) provides information, if requested by the Secretary of State, about any or all of the matters set out in paragraph (2);
(c) participates in discussions to the extent the Secretary of State considers necessary, about any or all of the matters set out in paragraph (3);
(d) assists the Secretary of State in the completion of an action plan.
(2) The matters referred to in paragraph (1)(b) are—
(a) the claimant’s educational qualifications and vocational training;
(b) the claimant’s work history;
(c) the claimant’s aspirations for future work;
(d) the claimant’s skills t
hat are relevant to work;
(e) the claimant’s work-related abilities;
(f) the claimant’s caring or
childcare responsibilities; and
(g) any paid or unpaid work that the claimant is undertaking.
(3) The matters referred to in paragraph (1)(c) are—
(a) any activity the claimant is willing to undertake which may make obtaining or remaining in work more likely;
(b) any such activity that the claimant may have previously undertaken;
(c) any progress the claimant may have made towards remaining in or obtaining work;
(d) any work-focused health-related assessment the claimant may have taken part in; and
(e) the claimant’s opinion as to the extent to which the ability to remain in or obtain work is restricted by the claimant’s physical or mental condition.
So the main difference with the previous regime is that people with a fit note from their GP saying they are not fit for work, will be (are being) called for a mandatory WFI.
They also will be asked to fill a questionnaire which is also mandatory and to undertake an optional exercise called My values. There will be another article specifically about the questionnaire
According to the DWP, some ‘vulnerable’ people will be exempted from this conversation. 
The DWP defines vulnerability as “an individual who is identified as having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable them to access DWP benefits and use our services.” but has not yet released the guidance given to Work Coaches on who will be exempted from the HWC. As these conversations have already started, this guidance exists and should be released immediately by the DWP.
Unfortunately, based on the DWP ghastly track record, it is likely that pressure to attend will be placed on people unable to attend because of their health conditions. DPAC has already encountered a case of a person with mental capacity issues and a life threatening health condition being requested to attend a HWC.
After the Health and Work Conversation
Unlike under the previous regime, when ESA claimants with a GP fit note saying they were unfit to work were not expected to fulfil any work related requirements until a WCA said otherwise, ESA claimants under UC will be by default assumed to be fit for work and expected to fulfil all Work Related Requirements until their WCA . 
Claimants to whom the All Work Related Requirements apply:
- claimants who have a fit note and are awaiting a WCA
- claimants who have been found not to have limited capability for work at the WCA and are appealing against this outcome
- claimants who have some paid work but are earning below conditionality earnings threshold
- claimants who do not fall into any other group
What All Work Related Requirement means:
Claimants in this group must be available for full-time work of any type and look for this within 90 minute travelling time from their home. Restrictions can be applied to looking for work, the type of work and hours of work where it is appropriate due to the claimant’s capability and circumstances.
Claimants must be engaged in work search and work preparation activities for at least the number of hours they are available for work. Claimants must take all reasonable action to obtain paid work.
Work Coaches must set work search activities for the claimant to search for work for their expected hours (This is the number of hours that the claimant is available for work or 35 hours, whichever is the lower figure) less deductions from this for the allowable time spent undertaking agreed work-preparation activities , voluntary work and paid work.
Only one restriction for people with health conditions is mentioned in the document: claimants who have a fit note will not be required to take up work that they are not capable of doing until their fit note ends
Any other derogation to the All Work Related Requirements will be at the discretion of work coaches. For most claimants, work coaches will not have more medical information than the fit note (the diagnosis) or in some cases, the WCA outcome when they have not be found to have Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity, and they should not be able to ask claimants for this kind of information without breaching the Data Protection Act. These work coaches are also not medically trained. Any Work Related Requirement will be based on the diagnosis, and on what the claimant would have told them during the HWC conversation and in the questionnaire. Also based on that, claimants would have to complete an action plan and sign a claimant commitment. Failure to do so could result in a sanction.
This is deeply worrying because:
1) an extra step is introduced before the WCA which is already stressful enough
2) all claimants assessed by their GP as unfit for work, will be considered by default fit for work by the DWP.
3) work coaches are medically untrained and unable to comprehend whether a work related requirement can have a detrimental effect on the health of a claimant
4) GPs medical judgement is undermined by medically untrained staff.
5) DWP definition of ‘vulnerable’ may be so restrictive that some claimants with very serious health conditions could be requested to attend a HWC and sanctioned for failing to do so