15 years of stammeringlaw 1999-2014
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Personal Capability Assessment

As regards new claimants, this seems to be relevant only for disability premium. For claims before October 2008, it was the test used for income support on the basis of disability and incapacity benefit. The test can be passed by someone whose speech cannot be understood - or if a lesser degree of speech limitation is combined with other disabilities.

For claims before 27th October 2008, the personal capability assessment was the main test to see whether you are 'incapable of work' and entitled to income support on the basis of disability or incapacity benefit. Those benefits are no longer open to new claimants. However, it seems that new claimants who are incapable work under the personal capability assessment may still be entitled to disability premium.

How the test works

The test works as follows. There is a Schedule divided into two parts. Part I lists activities relating to physical disabilities (eg "Walking up and down stairs", "Reaching", "Speech"). Part II lists activities relating to mental disabilities.

Each activity in Part I has a list of tasks ('descriptors') of varying difficulty, with a number beside each task. For each activity in which you are disabled you take the most difficult task (with the highest number) that you cannot do. This gives you your points score for that activity. You can add it to your points scores from any other Part I activity in which you are disabled. You pass the test (and so may be treated as incapable for work) if you get 15 points from Part I. The two "walking" activities in Part I are treated as one activity and so can only score once.

There are different rules on how points from Part II relating to mental disabilities, or some points from each Part, allow a person to qualify.

Application to stammering

The activity of "Speech" is covered in Part I as follows. You can only take the highest number under "Speech" which applies to you - you cannot add numbers within the activity together.


Cannot speak 15
Speech cannot be understood by family or friends 15
Speech cannot be understood by strangers 15
Strangers have great difficulty understanding speech 10
Strangers have some difficulty understanding speech 8
No problems with speech 0

So to get the 15 points to qualify as incapable solely because of speech, as regards stammering, the stammer needs to be so severe that you "cannot speak", or your "speech cannot be understood by family or friends", or your "speech cannot be understood by strangers". If you are also disabled in other respects (eg have difficulty walking), you may be able have a lower score under "Speech", say 8 points, and pick up the remaining 7 points from other activities in Part I. It can also be relevant that you have points from Part II in respect of a mental disablement, but different rules apply.

Cluttering which sometimes occurs alongside stammering can particularly make speech difficult to understand, even though the speaker may not realise this. Any cluttering should be relevant in assessing whether speech can be understood. See Cluttering (link to www.stammering.org). For an example of the effect of cluttering, see Living with cluttering (www.stammering.org).

To score points under Part I, the problem must arise "from a specific bodily disease or disablement". It has been held that 'bodily' in the context of disablement refers to the function that is affected rather than to the source of the condition (Case CIB/5435/2002 at para 16, on OSSCSC website; Case CIB/4828/99 on OSSCSC website. Therefore it should not matter whether or not stammering (or cluttering) has a 'mental' origin. Also, a person who stammers has been accepted as qualifying under Part I in practice.

Your abilities are looked at in the context of normal everyday living rather than in a work context (Case CIB/14587/96 on www.rightsnet.org.uk (Word doc)). Even so, in practice you may well want to make the point (if correct) that work is one of the situations in which your stammer is very severe. The 'Incapacity Benefit Handbook for Approved Doctors' (link to justice2008.org) (2004, page 83) suggests that DWP doctors consider:

You may be treated as unable to do an activity (eg speak, or speak understandably) if factors such as tiredness and discomfort mean that although you can do the activity, it is not reasonable to expect you to do it, or to do it with reasonable regularity.

Variations in severity of stammer

Like many conditions, stammering tends to vary. However it is possible to be seen as incapable for work on a continuing basis even if you don't pass the test every day or all the time.

The personal capability test is different from, and much tougher than, the Equality Act test for "disability". For example, there is no provision that the likelihood of a longer term relapse to the required state of incapacity would mean the personal capability test is passed, before it actually happens.

If you are not seen as incapable of work on an ongoing continuing basis, you may pass the test for particular days or for longer periods of time when you are having a bad patch. Obviously longer periods are more likely to be useful in qualifying for benefit.

Official guidance on variable conditions includes:

Use of aids

Again unlike the Equality Act test for "disability", the personal capability assessment looks at your abilities when using any aid or appliance you would normally use, eg an altered auditory feedback device.

Has anyone who stammers passed the test?

Yes, at least one individual with a severe stammer has been accepted as meeting the requirement that his 'Speech cannot be understood by strangers'.

Incidentally, the same person was later accepted on appeal as having had 90% disablement for the purposes of severe disablement allowance (SDA). SDA has now been abolished for new claimants. However the tribunal ruling is a welcome recognition of how disabling a severe stammer can be.

I would be interested to hear of anyone else who has been accepted as 'incapable of work' on the basis of a stammer (allan@atyrer.net).

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Last updated 5th August, 2011