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Thursday, 24 August 2017

Senior Labour MP in call for urgent review of disability benefit assessment process

Written by Jon Vale

A senior MP has called for an urgent review of assessments for disability benefits, amid warnings people are having their payments withdrawn incorrectly and are being forced to use food banks.

Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions select committee, has written to ministers saying the current process fails to adequately take account of people's disabilities and health conditions.

Fellow Labour MP Neil Coyle has also demanded answers, saying the assessment process for personal independence payments (PIP) has "failed on every measure".

The Department for Work and Pensions said it welcomed scrutiny of the PIP process, adding that only a small percentage of decisions are overturned at appeal.

It marks the latest controversy as the Government moves people over to PIP from disability living allowance (DLA), with thousands of people having had their claim rejected only to have the decision reversed.

More than 50% of households that relied on food banks to eat included a disabled person, according to an Oxford University study released earlier this year.

Mr Field, MP for Birkenhead, said the issue had now been raised by his local food bank.

In a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke, Mr Field said many people were forced to use the food bank after having their benefits "either wrongly withdrawn or drastically reduced" after their transfer to PIP from DLA.

He said the PIP process used a "rigid" set of questions which failed to gauge the impact of rare or complex health conditions on people's ability to live an independent life, and therefore how much benefit they were entitled to.

Mr Field (pictured) wrote: "Might you therefore review as a matter of urgency please the quality, accuracy, and reliability of the assessment process, and report back on the steps that are being taken to ensure it more accurately reflects applicants' health conditions?"

Meanwhile Mr Coyle, a member of the Work and Pensions select committee in the last Parliament and a former director of policy at the Disability Alliance, vowed to use parliamentary scrutiny to investigate PIP when MPs return from their summer recess.

He spoke out after hearing "shocking" evidence from the Disability News Service about widespread inaccuracies in PIP assessments.

"We know there's been problems, to put it mildly, but the department had reassured us it would learn the lessons from the work capability assessment and it wouldn't repeat the same mistakes, wouldn't allow the same issues to affect it, the processes would be better, and it has failed on every measure," Mr Coyle told the Press Association.

"What's perhaps even more worrying about this is the Department for Work and Pensions refuses to accept there is any inaccuracy, and yet we see people in the most awful situations again and again."

Mr Coyle said he knew of cases where people were initially given "zero points" on their PIP assessment, only to be awarded more than 50 points when their case was reviewed.

To claim either element of PIP, claimants need to be awarded eight points to get the standard rate or 12 points to get the higher rate.

Last year 13,130 people who were initially given zero points on their PIP assessment were later awarded payments, according to figures released to Parliament.

Mr Coyle said the current system put pressure on disabled people and their families, with "millions of pounds of public money being poured down the drain".

Atos and Capita were being paid huge sums to carry out the assessments, he said, only for DWP officials to review many of their decisions and pay backdated benefits to those who have their PIP reinstated.

"In terms of taxpayer's money, this system is completely failing," he added.

Atos and Capita have already been paid around £600 million for their PIP assessment contracts, against an original contract value of £512 million.

A DWP spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring PIP works as effectively as possible for all claimants, which is why we welcome past and future scrutiny of the PIP journey.

"Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

"Just 3% of all PIP decisions are overturned at appeal and in the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more oral or written evidence."

The Work and Pensions select committee had launched an inquiry into PIP before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

Mr Field said it would be up to the committee whether it wished to resume the investigation once it reformed after the summer recess.

Impact of DLA to PIP transfers on disability benefits

Here are some key statistics about the impact on the disability benefits system as people have transferred over from DLA to PIP since 2013:

  • The latest figures from the Motability charity show 59,000 people have lost their eligibility for a vehicle - 45% of all those on the scheme that have been reassessed. Of these, more than 4,000 have since re-joined following a successful reconsideration or appeal.
  • In total, 230,700 people have been awarded less on PIP than they were on DLA, including 149,200 people between January and October 2016.
  • Government figures show that since PIP launched, 178,000 people have had an original decision overturned at mandatory reconsideration, a review system run by DWP, or at appeal to an independent tribunal
  • In 2016/17, 65% of PIP decisions that went to appeal were overturned at tribunal in the claimant's favour, according to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics.
  • Analysis suggests that in 2016, around one in every 14 decisions made on PIP was eventually overturned in the claimant's favour either at mandatory reconsideration or appeal.
  • Charity Citizens Advice has said 88% of its nationwide network of disability advisers have seen inaccuracies in PIP assessments, with concerns over how much time assessors get to complete their reports.
  • Under PIP, 28% of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared with 15% under DLA.

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