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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I welcome the new Minister to her post and wish her well.

I have brought the matter of preparing for personal independence payments—PIPs—to the House as a representative of a good number of people in my constituency who have come to me to ask for advice and to express their concerns about the replacement for the disability living allowance. I feel that the issue is so crucial and of such great concern to disabled people, in my constituency and the rest of the country, that we should keep it on the agenda. It is vital that we discuss the plans for personal independence payments now, so that we can be proactive in solving any issues, rather than waiting for them to become problems and reacting to them too late.

Let me start by saying that disability living allowance needed to be reformed. Crucial problems had to be addressed, about which people across the board were in agreement, but the reforms that have come through have raised a great number of concerns. I do not, however, want to talk about any of the flaws in the policy as a whole. It is far too late for that. We need to move past them now and look to the future, to ensure that the philosophy behind the policy—the slashing of the welfare budget—does not undermine its implementation and that the final regulations and guidance are designed around the needs of disabled people.

In its research, the Department for Work and Pensions has calculated that half a million people who would have been eligible for DLA, had it continued, will not be eligible for personal independence payments. That tells only half the story. Many other people will be significantly affected by changes to the system: 280,000 claimants will lose their entitlement to the enhanced or higher rate mobility allowance and some 370,000 fewer claimants will be entitled to standard or lower rate mobility allowance. Those people will also lose many of the benefits and necessities associated with DLA.

Scotland’s disabled people will be severely affected, with an estimated 74,000 people losing some or all of their mobility allowance. I can see why so many people in my constituency have come to me with their concerns. Library figures show that 1,260 people are likely not to be transferred on to personal independence payments. That is a huge number of people, and let us remember that many more will lose their entitlement to higher levels of benefit.

With so many people losing so much, we need to discuss what will happen to them. People who do not qualify for PIPs will need to look elsewhere to cover the loss in their income; people not entitled to PIPs may appeal such a decision and be left in limbo; and people will lose some of their passported benefits, because of the difference in the number of levels in the daily living category. There will be carers who lose their benefits, which will impact on both themselves and the people they care for.

We must discuss what happens in those situations and where people are to go for help. Why? Because so many of the constituents who are coming to us about the issue want to know exactly that. They are scared, and as their representatives, we need to ensure that we have done everything that we can to protect their rights. Their concern, which is mine, is about the process itself and how it will be conducted.

The PIPs system is intended to provide more face-to-face assessments than the DLA one. That raises several issues, the most important of which is that assessors should be given adequate training to enable them to identify disabled people’s issues and how they face such issues. That is an extremely difficult challenge, and I want guarantees that that has been thought through.

The number of disabilities is vast, and they vary from extremely physical ones to those that are less obvious to someone who has not been trained adequately. The system involves a very medical model, looking at what people can do, rather than what they cannot do. That might be appropriate for some types of disability. However, someone with a learning disability, for example, might be asked by an assessor, “How are you?” and they might reply, “I’m good.” Of course, they may be good physically, but such a conversation would not necessarily pick up the many problems that the person with a learning disability does not realise they have but needs support for.

Face-to-face interviews will be very stressful for those with mental health problems, who find it difficult to communicate with strangers. People with a different category of disability, such as those with acquired brain injury, need more time to consider and understand issues and find it difficult to grasp the scope and complexity of interviews. Will we have trained assessors for people with all those and other examples of disability? Will assessors have access to medical records with written consent? They need to be able to identify all issues correctly and must have the expertise to conduct interviews effectively. For example, I do not want what happened to one deaf-blind person during the trial period to happen to others. She was unable to be assessed as the assessors could not find, and had not asked for, a deaf-blind manual interpreter.

Will we have trained assessors for disabilities the symptoms of which cannot be seen, such as those caused by a stroke? I asked that very question about whether additional training would be provided to assessors, and I was told that clear guidance has already been received and that there are

“no plans to provide additional training.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 64W.]

I have heard many horror stories that suggest that that might not be the case. We need to learn from the problems caused by the lack of training and awareness in employment and support allowance and work capability assessments and incorporate the lessons learned into a better system for PIPs.

Does my hon. Friend share this concern? I welcome the fact that there will be some piloting with a small number of applicants, but that pilot is scheduled to last for only two months before the start of the wider roll-out to new applicants. That will not give sufficient time to ascertain what the problems might be and certainly not to evaluate them and make changes.

My hon. Friend is quite right. Even if the Government learn lessons from the pilot, will they be ready to go back to the drawing board to look at the role of assessors? Somehow, I doubt that they will be.

We need excellent assessors, who can see the nuances of difference between disabilities and are fully trained to identify and advise those they assess. That is the first issue that I hope will be addressed by April 2013. The guidance provided to assessors is another source of concern for disabled people and charities. I am interested to know whether the Government have changed their mind on whether they will consult on the guidance once it has been drawn up. Assessors would be helped greatly if they had clear and effective guidance in front of them.

An aspect of the issue that is close to my heart, as hon. Members may be aware, concerns the identification of mobility issues for blind and partially sighted people. I campaigned for an automatic entitlement to the higher rate of mobility allowance for cane and dog users. That is being lost in the PIPs system, along with many other automatic entitlements. Many people are concerned that that will create an unnecessary burden for disabled people, whether or not they eventually receive the higher rate. Will the Minister restate her reasons for creating that additional burden?

There is also concern that, under the new guidance for PIPs, guide dogs will be seen as the only evidence of mobility issues for blind and partially sighted people. I have heard rumours that the final guidance will include canes as well as guide dogs, but I would like reassurance from the Minister that that will be the case. We cannot go backwards when dealing with such people.

The guidance must be all-encompassing and provide for all types of disability. It must also recognise that being disabled can be a lifelong condition and a lifelong drain on income. The Department for Work and Pensions has published various case studies that show how PIPs would work. For example, referring again to blind and partially sighted people, one of the studies shows someone who has been living with sight loss for some time receiving a lower award than someone with the same impairment but recently diagnosed. Costs do not diminish over time, and as people learn to live more independently, they might need more help and money to deal with what they can then do. The Government want to put those people back rather than help them to go forward. People should not be penalised for having learnt to live with their condition, and the Government must consider that.

Regarding the guidance that assessors receive, I have raised a number of points that concern many of my constituents. Again, I would be interested to hear some assurances from the Minister that the guidance will be designed to reflect the multitude of disabilities. I have spoken about how we can ensure that the 1,260 people in my constituency who will lose out on PIPs, along with the hundreds of others who will not qualify for higher rates, do not lost out because of untrained assessors or inadequate guidance. We must now address what happens to the people who do not qualify for PIPs.

The hon. Gentleman makes some important points, and I look forward to the Minister’s replies. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is unacceptable that 48% of disabled people should not have employment, along with the well-being and stronger financial position that comes from that, and that PIPs, with the regular reviews, are a step in the right direction for many disabled people who want to work and are able to do so?

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we see Remploy factories being closed down and other areas where there is no work for disabled people, yet we try to tell them they have to find employment. If there was employment, believe me, most people who are disabled would want to take it up, and right away. Unfortunately, the realism of the work market at the moment is that there are not the jobs for every person who would like one, never mind every person who is disabled.

I asked a question about the notice given to someone who is not eligible for PIPs and was told:

“Where entitlement to personal independence payment has not been established the DLA will stop shortly after the decision notice has been sent.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 837W.]

The vague “shortly” shows an absolute lack of evaluation of what it will mean in practice. I have subsequently received another letter in which the same word is used as a time frame. That is not good enough. Far more thought and consideration needs to be put into what that will mean for people who lose their benefit. How long will they have to find another source of income? Will there be enough time for them to find other sources of benefit from the Government?

In oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, Professor Roy Sainsbury said that based on the 1990s take-up rates of between 50% and 70%—we can probably assume that the rate has increased a little—perhaps as many as 25% of disabled people still do not claim DLA. We can therefore only assume that the people currently claiming DLA are those who need it most, and we can therefore also assume that they will be the people most affected by its loss. Some of the most vulnerable people in our society will now have the complicated responsibility of navigating the PIPs system, and those who have already been identified as vulnerable should be given specific attention during the handover. We need clearer answers on how long DLA claimants will have before the benefit is stopped and on what kind of help they will receive to get them over the initial period.

We can also assume that a number of appeals regarding PIPs are likely. In most places, the assessments are to be administered by Atos—a company that is notoriously bad at making accurate assessments. We already know that it got one in five ESA assessments wrong between October 2008 and November 2011, so I am certain that many people who are not eligible for PIPs will want to appeal the decision. In Scotland, the system will now be run by Salus, but I am sure that many people there will still look to appeal. We must ensure that the lessons learnt from the ESA and work capability assessments are not lost. I would like to ask that the process for people who are appealing their decision is properly conducted. Will their DLA be cut, and will they be expected to find another source of income?

I would also like to ask about how the loss of DLA and the higher or enhanced rate of mobility for PIPs will impact upon carers. I have more than my fair share of carers in my constituency, and if money is lost to them what do they do about caring, and how will carers be looked after? I am sure that they will continue to care, but they will struggle to pay their bills at the same time. We must give carers the respect that they deserve. They save this country billions of pounds every year. I am interested to hear how the Minister will deal with that.

My final point is on passported benefits—a key concern for my constituents that alerted me to the practical problems with PIPs. The Motability scheme, for example, is paid for through the higher rate of benefits. As I explained earlier, 280,000 people will lose their entitlement to higher or enhanced rate mobility, and a large proportion of them are likely to have their Motability vehicle seized. They will be unable to make the payments for the vehicle, and if they have already been relying on it—I am certain that some people will still need such a vehicle despite not being eligible for the higher rate—what will they do to get around? Will they be left in a state of isolation? At what point will their vehicle be seized? Will they be given time to get another mode of transport?

I hope that the impact of losing the higher rate of mobility has been carefully considered, because it will make a massive difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. There will also be an impact on blue badge holders and concessionary travel benefits, and holding separate assessments for passported benefits will not only cause stress for people who have lost their DLA, but incur extra costs for the taxpayer. As I have said before, the aim of the policy is to save money, so this all seems pointless and unnecessary.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) on securing the debate. I recognise the contribution that he has made in campaigning for rights for disabled people down the years, including his significant involvement in recent changes to disability living allowance. I also welcome his acknowledgement that DLA is a benefit in need of reform; we need to ensure that we get it right.

The starting point, therefore, must be that the Government remain committed to supporting those in greatest need, so that they can live independently. However, we also must ensure that the right financial support gets to the right people for the right reason. After all, the Government spend £50 billion a year on benefits and services for disabled people. It is worth remembering that DLA has not been fundamentally reformed since 1992 and that the expenditure increased by a third between 1998 and 2010. More than two thirds of the current case load has an indefinite award, and because people’s claims simply are not systematically checked or updated, there are significant overpayments and underpayments. Twenty years later, we are left with a system that is a lifeline for many people, but it is widely acknowledged that we need to reform it.

The reforms are about targeting support more effectively and keeping the best elements of DLA—the ones that disabled people value—but also about bringing the benefit up to date and fit for the 21st century. I assure Members that we are fully committed to the implementation of the personal independence payment from April 2013 and that we are on track for delivery. We will start with small volumes of new claims in the north-west before the national roll-out begins in June 2013. I will not go into the details of that, however, because the hon. Gentleman has raised some specific points.

It is important to get the assessment and assessor training right, with an emphasis on the importance of assessors being able to identify the wide range of barriers that people with disabilities and impairments may face. The Department for Work and Pensions has set clear standards for providers on the skills, training and competence expected of those assessors. We will work closely with the providers to ensure that training is of that required standard, and we will approve the training plans only when we are fully satisfied that they meet the necessary quality. All assessors will be health professionals with broad training in disability analysis, as well as training on specific impairments. Although we expect assessors to have good general knowledge of health conditions and impairments, they do not need specialist knowledge of particular conditions.

I totally disagree with the Minister’s last statement. There are certain times when specialists are required. Putting the onus on the assessor to make a decision on something that they know very little about suggests that the process is more about ticking boxes than an actual assessment.

If I had reached the end of my paragraph, I might have answered those questions.

Assessors will have broad knowledge and specialist knowledge, but the assessment will not be medical; the assessment focuses on outcomes and how the health condition affects the individual. We recognise, however, that assessors might need support on mental, intellectual and cognitive impairments when assessing individuals with, for example, mental health conditions, learning disabilities or autism. As such, we require providers to have mental and cognitive champions, as recommended by Professor Harrington.

There are more people to be assessed and reassessed for this new benefit than there were for the employment and support allowance, which I accept is very different. One problem that we have encountered is that there are only two mental health champions for the whole of Scotland. Can the Minister reassure us that that number will be increased, because we are dealing with larger numbers?

Absolutely. The hon. Lady is right that the assessment is very different, but we have to take forward the knowledge that we have learned. I have had many meetings on the need for more champions to provide the knowledge, so that people can have confidence when they are being assessed.

Does the Minister agree that the continuing good influence of Professor Harrington is worth noting when considering such issues?

I am running short of time, and I have a lot of answers to give to the hon. Member for Glasgow North West.

I am very grateful, and I will be brief. A lady came to see me the other day with a friend. She was absolutely delightful, and people who talk to her would not know that she has long-standing mental health issues. I was assured by her and her friend that the following day she would be capable of virtually nothing. How is that going to be judged in the assessment? Can her medical records and letters from doctors and experts support such an application and be taken fully into account?

My hon. Friend raises a fair point. He is correct that we will not take a snapshot in time; a view will be taken over a year and, equally, it will be based on whether the claimant needs support during a part of the day, not for the majority of the day. All those factors are being taken into consideration.

Assessment providers are being given clear guidance on how to carry out the personal independence payment assessment. That will include aspects such as when to gather further evidence and when to conduct a paper-based review of evidence, rather than a face-to-face consultation.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North West asked whether the guidance will address the use of long canes by blind and partially sighted people. The Department’s guidance for providers will be relatively high-level. The guidance will not list specific conditions, nor will it tell assessors how to advise in certain cases. To do so would go against the fundamental principles of the personal independence payment assessment, which is that it will be an individual assessment that considers each claimant’s personal circumstances.

Although we do not intend to run a formal public consultation on the guidance, we will keep it under review and will consider any comments received from stakeholders. We also expect assessment providers to work with stakeholders, as they develop their own, more detailed guidance and training products.

The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the number of people who will lose their benefit as a result of the changes. I would like to make it clear that it is very difficult to generalise about who will leave the benefit. Entitlement to PIP will be based on individual circumstances and the impact of disabilities, not on what conditions people have.

Some people will receive more support; some will receive broadly the same; others will receive less; and some will leave the benefit altogether. I fully acknowledge that, but equally, given the 3.3 million people who are on DLA, we understand that it is not a static benefit but a dynamic benefit: some people’s conditions will stay the same; some people’s conditions will worsen; and some people’s conditions will get better and, with the right support, they will no longer need the benefit.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have legislated to carry out two biennial independent reviews of the PIP assessment, its criteria and operation within the first four years of the introduction of PIP, so that we can learn and adapt from our experiences.

The hon. Gentleman asked for specific clarification on the arrangements for blind and partially sighted people. He also asked whether we will be making changes to the mobility activities to take into account those individuals who use a long cane, rather than a support dog. Although it was never our intention to limit support to blind and visually impaired people who have a support dog, I am aware that issue has caused a lot of concern.

Although I cannot confirm now the changes that we intend to make in the final draft of the assessment criteria, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure that assessments fairly reflect the needs of blind and partially sighted people. I am aware of the strength of feeling on that issue. The final assessment criteria will be published soon—I will be able to say more then—and I hope that that is reassuring. I fully acknowledge all his work in that area.

I am checking the clock, and I want to get through as many questions as I can, so I will move on to appeals.

A decision being overturned on appeal does not always mean that the original decision was wrong. Often an overturn is due to the claimant providing new information to the tribunal that is material to the original decision. That is why PIP will be one of the first benefits to follow new rules from 2013 that allow us to identify and address incorrect decisions fairly and robustly without the need for full appeals in all cases. That is more proportionate, fairer for the claimant and better value for the taxpayer. Once a claimant has been informed that they are not entitled to PIP, their benefit will cease and they will not receive it during the course of their appeal.

The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about how the changes will affect those in receipt of carer’s allowance. We expect that the introduction of PIP will not affect the overall size of the carer’s allowance case load or the expenditure on that benefit. We recognise the important role that carers play, which is why both rates of the daily living component will form part of the gateway to carer’s allowance.

Officials from the Department are working closely with Motability to assess the impact of the introduction of PIP on its users. Only 33% of the 1 million disabled recipients of the higher rate mobility component of DLA are Motability customers. That makes it difficult to predict the precise impact of caseload changes or the number of Motability users. We are continuing to work closely with Motability to ensure it is ready for the introduction of PIP in April 2013.

I hope that my comments have reassured hon. Members that the introduction of PIP is on track for delivery in 2013. Our proposals have been developed following extensive collaborative consultation with disabled people, and we continue to work with disabled representative organisations and disabled people.

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(13)).