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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 597: debated on Monday 22 June 2015

5. What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department of the High Court ruling in June 2015 on delays in personal independence payments. (900444)

We have taken decisive action to speed up waiting times for personal independence payment claims and are pleased that the Court has recognised the huge progress made. The average new PIP claimant now waits only five weeks for an assessment.

Currently, delays to people receiving PIP causes problems, but the impact of delays on other benefits such as the carer’s allowance and blue badges is hugely significant. Although the Government have made progress, will the Minister advise us as to what the backlog is in terms of numbers, and how many people wait more than seven weeks?

It is important to recognise that other benefits are backdated. We have made huge progress. The backlog has been falling month on month since August 2014, and we are now within where we would expect to be as part of usual business. We are looking at a median time, end to end, of 11 weeks. We will continue to monitor that important issue closely.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a letter I received from a constituent last week? He says:

“I was recently contacted by DWP to be assessed for PIP…I sent the forms off and within 3 days had a medical assessment at my home…I have to tell you that the process from start to finish was 3 weeks. Is this a record?...Whilst we read a lot in the media I think my recent experience shows the system may at last be improving.”

I thank my hon. Friend for that. Claims are now cleared at four times the rate they were in January 2014. We have quadrupled the number of healthcare professionals, introduced more than 200 new assessment rooms, doubled the number of DWP decision-making staff, and improved IT systems and claimant communication. I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s constituent has benefited from those improvements.

I welcome the new Ministers to their roles.

The recent High Court ruling found that the delays to PIP were unreasonable and unlawful. They are also undermining the well-being and dignity of sick and disabled people. I know that I am not the only Member who has seen constituents affected not just by inordinate delays, but by poor quality assessments, driving them into hardship and destitution. The High Court ruling should have been a wake-up call for Ministers, but they seem to be refusing to accept that PIP is just not fit for purpose. In the light of that damning judgment, will they halt the roll-out of PIP and initiate a review as a matter of urgency?

Actually, the Court and the Paul Gray review agreed that there were no inherent failings in the system, and significant improvements have been made, which I have already listed. The reality is that some cases were unacceptable, but we must not forget why we introduced PIP. It is a modern benefit that allows thorough face-to-face assessments and will ultimately see a higher proportion of maximum value paid, compared with the old disability living allowance system. We are continuing to make improvements and I will keep a close eye on the issue.

I am disappointed by the Minister’s complacency. Earlier this year, Citizens Advice Scotland published research showing that 55% of current DLA claimants will lose out in the transfer to PIP. It is not just sick and disabled people who will suffer—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I thought you were cutting me off, Mr Speaker. The Scottish Government estimate that 450 carers in Scotland will lose their carer’s allowance because of this transition. That will put further strain on families that are already at a disadvantage—

Too long. Some of these questions require a bit of advance practice and a blue pencil. I have no impediment in my throat: I was trying gently to hint to the hon. Lady that her question was a tad long.

I am afraid that I do not share the hon. Lady’s views. PIP is a far better system than the former DLA. Under DLA, only 6% of people had a face-to-face assessment, 50% of awards were made with no medical advice, and 71% were allocated lifetime awards, even though one in three cases would change within 12 months—often getting worse, so that people missed out on the appropriate support. We are right to push this and I will continue to keep a close eye on the improvements we have made.

I warmly welcome the Minister to his post.

My constituency has many isolated rural and coastal communities. What is being done to ensure that assessment centres are more accessible and flexible for people in those communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question: he is a real champion for his constituents. We have added an extra 200 assessment rooms. People who find it difficult to reach an assessment room can travel by car as long as it is within 60 minutes; by public transport if it is within 90 minutes; or, by prior agreement with the assessment providers, they can have taxis provided and paid for.

What a difference a weekend makes. On Saturday, thousands of disabled people marched in protest against cuts in their benefits. The Minister comes here today, trotting out his sunshine stories, while in the real world disabled people are losing benefits left, right and centre. He can remedy that today by saying, “This Government will not cut the benefits of any disabled person throughout this Parliament.” Come on, say it!

We are clear that we will protect the disabled and vulnerable. Let us remember that under the PIP system 22% of claimants will end up getting the highest rate of support, which is higher than the 16% under the DLA. We are doing more to help the most vulnerable in society.