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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Ministers vow to reform disability benefits tests after independent PIP review

Written by Jon Vale

Ministers have pledged to reform tests for disability benefits after accepting all the recommendations in an official review.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has accepted partially or in full all 14 recommendations made in Paul Gray's independent review of personal independence payment (PIP), which was published in March.

The Government will look at simplifying communications for people claiming PIP, and explore how to ensure evidence is collected and reviewed as effectively as possible to support people's claims.

Labour said the assessment process for PIP was "not fit for purpose", and raised concerns that key recommendations had not been accepted in full.

Disabilities minister Sarah Newton (pictured) said: "We're determined to make the PIP application process as simple as possible both for the independent assessors and the people applying for it.

"That's why we commissioned the second review on top of the strong steps we've already taken, so we can fully understand what works best, and what we need to improve on.

"Working closely with disabled people and their representatives, we'll continue to explore how to help meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society."

DWP acknowledges the review showed a higher variability in PIP outcomes than would be expected, and is working out a system of early preparation for more complex cases to be trialled in 2018.

Around one in 10 original decisions on PIP claims by DWP are now overturned at either mandatory reconsideration or appeal, according to DWP statistics.

The same DWP data, released to the Work and Pensions select committee, also shows the private contractors that carry out PIP assessments are failing to meet their targets in terms of the number of assessments that are "unacceptable".

The figures show 6% of assessments carried out by Atos were unacceptable in the three months to October, compared to 8% for Capita.

Under PIP 29% of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared to 15% under the old system.

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "It is clear the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessment process is not fit for purpose.

"Instead of supporting people, the process leaves individuals and their family's lives in tatters.

"The recommendations from Paul Gray's second review regarding improving trust and transparency, timely reporting and quality assurance have not been accepted in full.

"There remains an evident distrust of the assessment process by sick and disabled people."

On Monday ministers came under fresh pressure over PIP in the Commons, with select committee chairman Frank Field calling for root-and-branch reform and other Labour MPs raising cases from their constituencies.

Shadow disabilities minister Marsha De Cordova also challenged Ms Newton over why the Government had rejected calls in Mr Gray's review to provide claimants with their assessment reports as standard.

Ms Newton said anyone could request the report, adding: "We do not think it is a good use of taxpayers money to provide them to people who are happy with the result."

Separate research published on Monday showed 39% of PIP claimants felt they were unable to explain things in their assessment, with a third saying there was a problem with the assessor.

Some 11% described their assessor as being "intimidating or scary".

Last week figures were published showing that 68% of PIP cases taken to appeal were overturned over the past three months, the highest on record, and that £35.3 million has been spent processing PIP appeals in 12 months.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: "If the Government is serious about improving PIP, it needs to fix the fundamentally broken assessment.

"Just last week it was revealed that PIP appeals are being won at their highest rate ever.

"The Government must overhaul the assessment so it accurately identifies the extra costs disabled people face."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Anthony Devlin / PA Wire.