Practice Note - The Main Meal Test - DLA

Monday 29 November 2010

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The main meal test (also known as ‘the cooking test’) is intended to be a “simple and effective measure of disability” (Hansard 7 March 1991, Col 1545). The test is whether a claimant “cannot prepare a cooked main meal for himself if he has the ingredients”: section 72 (1)(a)(ii) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. In the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v Moyna [2003] 4AER 162 R(DLA) 7/03, Lord Hoffman said of the “cooking test” that:

“….its purpose is not to ascertain whether the applicant can survive, or enjoy a reasonable diet, without assistance. It is a notional test, a thought experiment, to calibrate the severity of the disability”.

The basic idea is that someone will qualify under the cooking test if, by reason of their disability, he or she cannot reasonably be expected to prepare a cooked main meal. In each case, the decision maker has to apply a “notional test” taking into account the potential or actual effect which the act of cooking has on the claimant. As the test is hypothetical it excludes consideration of the realities of the claimant’s position. This means “reasonableness” is to be judged in relation to the practicality of the claimant carrying out the hypothetical function (R(DLA) 1/97 para 7, and R(DLA) 1/08 para 6).

The jurisprudence on the nature of the main meal test is set out below:

  • The test pre-supposes that the preparer of the meal has the ingredients. Accordingly, an inability to shop for the ingredients is to be excluded (CDLA/770/2000 para 9).
  • The test is a theoretical or abstract one and so the person’s inability or disinclination to cook is to be ignored (Moyna R(DLA) 7/03, R(DLA) 2/05, R(DLA) 2/95, CDLA/770/00 and CDLA/5686/1999 ).
  • The ability to bend is not an essential part of the main meal test, and it does not require the manipulation of heavy pots and pans (CDLA/5686/1999, CDLA/770/2000, C041/98(DLA) and CDLA/2367/2004 para 10 ).
  • Whether someone lacks the concentration or motivation to carry out the necessary activities involved in preparing a main meal on a regular basis is relevant (R(DLA) 6/05 para 4 and CSDLA/725/2004 para 19 ).
  • The speed at which the claimant can prepare a meal is relevant; it may be so slow that, looked at overall, a tribuanl could conclude that the claimant is unable to prepare a cooked main meal for themselves (CDLA/4051/2007 paras 17 and 22 ).
  • Safety is an aspect of disability and it is relevant to the issue of whether a claimant ‘cannot’ prepare a main meal (CDLA/1471/2004 para 10); but all risk cannot be eliminated (R(DLA) 1/97 para 10, a case concerning a haemophiliac).
  • The effects of heat and steam must be considered where the claimant suffers from breathing problems. Factors include the nature of the disability, likely reaction to heat/steam, and degree of ventilation available (CDLA/4214/2002 paras 14-15). A claimant’s nausea, if it is a symptom of their disability, must also be taken into account (R(DLA) 1/08).
  • The usual kitchen devices to assist with the preparation of food may be taken into account (R(DLA) 2/95, CDLA/770/2000), as can devices to assist with the cooking of food (CDLA/1469/1995, CDLA/5686/1999, and CDLA/770/2000 ).
  • Tribunals may take into account ‘devices to assist’ (R(DLA) 2/95) or ‘coping stratagems (CDLA/5686/1999 para 13) provided it is reasonably practical for the claimant concerned to take advantage of the device or stratagem that is being proposed (CDLA/5686/1999 para 16 ).
  • While the test should take account of any adaptations already in existence (CDLA/17329/1996) the test does not impose a pro-active duty on a claimant to adapt his or her facilities in order to compensate for a disability (C009/08-09(DLA) and R(DLA)2/95 para 11 ).
  • Microwave ovens, used in the preparation of a cooked main meal, may be taken into account (CDLA/770/2000 and CDLA/5250/2002 ). However, if the only activity that a claimant carries out with the microwave is to pierce a plastic lid, place the item in the microwave and adjust the controls, this would not equate to the preparation of a cooked main meal for one (CDLA/2367/2004, para 10 ).
  • If it is possible to use a chair or a perching stool in order to cook a main meal safely then this can be taken into account (CDLA/2259/2000 para 9 ) but tribunals must investigate the reasonableness and effectiveness of using such a stool (R(DLA)8/02 para 7 ).

While decided cases help define the nature of the test, they should not be used in a formulaic manner; (see CDLA4958/2002 para 5 on the use of a slotted spoon). Each case has to be assessed on its merits and the tribunal needs to address the specific difficulties faced by the claimant due to their disabilities. If it thinks of a solution to a difficulty being experienced by the claimant, it is good practice for a tribunal to invite the claimant to comment on what is being suggested (CDLA/4214/2002 para 6).

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