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‘Bedroom tax’ and other benefits requests pile pressure on GPs

GP practices are seeing a rising number of patient requests to supply information to back their benefits claims, with the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ proving particularly problematic.

LMC leaders have been forced in one area to produce a leaflet for local practices that tells patients GPs are ‘not in a position to adminster or police the benefits system’ and that they will not reply to requests for letters of support.

Birmingham LMC have also supplied a letter for patients to give to any agency that requires a GP letter to tell them that they are not contracturally obliged to do so, after requests rose due to benefit cuts introduced this month for those in social housing with a spare room. Click here to download the poster and letter.

Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley said the leaflet was based on material orginially produced by Glasgow LMC.

He said: ‘This has always been a problem but the recent changes have brought about an increase in numbers, and specifically regarding the bedroom tax.’

The GPC reminded GPs that it is not part of their job to solve benefits disputes, even if they are asking about medical conditions - such as sleep apnea - that could mean they are protected from benefit cuts.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We are concerned that many patients are having benefits withdrawn inappropriately. That is demonstrated by the large amount of claims that are successful in the appeals process. But, that said, it is unnecessary for benefits agencies to encourage patients to see their GP, because the evidence that a GP can provide is not what they need to determine whether to withdraw their benefits or not.’

‘[Sleep apnoea] could be one reason but there could be a variety of reasons why carers find it very difficult to sleep in the same room as their partner. But that is not necessarily something which would require a GP letter.

‘GPs can provide a diagnosis and information about a diagnosis, but what they should not be asked to provide is an assessment of how that affects that particular person, because that becomes a subjective view. That is for the medical assessors to do as part of the benefits assessment.’

Dr Vautrey said that should they decide they wanted to write a letter on their patient’s behalf GPs could demand a fee for doing so.

‘That has always been the case, because it is outside of the contractual arrangement, that you can make a charge for anything beyond that. But GPs are not wanting to do that, they don’t think it is necessary for them to do this work in the first place.’

But he advised against doing so, adding: ‘GPs would routinely end up writing a supportive letter by the very nature of a GP being an advocate of their patient. They are very biased in that process. The key thing about assessing benefits is that it should be an independent process so they get a fair hearing.’