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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 624: debated on Monday 27 March 2017

3. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that personal independence payment assessments are undertaken fairly and efficiently. (909475)

17. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that personal independence payment assessments are undertaken fairly and efficiently. (909490)

The Department robustly monitors provider performance and independently audits assessments. Assessment reports deemed unacceptable are returned for rework. A range of measures, including contractual remedies, are used to address performance falling below those standards.

A constituent contacted me after she submitted a claim for personal independence payment and then had to wait 12 weeks for the home assessment appointment she needed. Capita finally telephoned, giving less than 48 hours’ notice of the visit, only to cancel 10 minutes before the appointed time. After three and a half months, she is still no nearer receiving the support she needs. I know from my discussions with the Meadows Advice Group that she is just one of dozens of disabled people being let down by the Minister’s Department. When will the Minister address this catalogue of failure?

If the hon. Lady would let me have sight of that case, I will look into it in particular, because it is unacceptable and falls below the performance and the courtesy, quite frankly, that we would want from our providers. People’s personal experience is very important in getting this process right. I am pleased to be able to say that from April we will commence the user rep panels, with about 300 people initially, across the UK, to whom we will give real-time experience of PIP and ESA—employment and support allowance.

We have all had cases like that, but could it not only be an arrogant Tory Government who ignore legal decisions that override expert medical opinion in order to deprive people with mental health issues of the right to benefits? What level of cuts has the Minister promised the Chancellor in order to get this policy through?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is being very irresponsible in saying that. He knows that there is no change to policy, to budget or to award amounts. I remind him that people with mental health conditions are receiving higher levels of benefit than they did under DLA. This benefit is not about people’s conditions; it is about the impact that those conditions have on the individual’s ability to thrive and live their life as they would wish. It is quite wrong and irresponsible to suggest anything otherwise.

The vast majority of successful appeals are due to late additional submitted evidence. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary appeals, what steps is the Minister taking to automatically access medical reports with the consent of the claimant?

This is one of the key reasons why not only is 3% of the PIP caseload being overturned at appeal, but we are not getting the right decision at mandatory reconsideration stage. We have been doing a number of trials to improve that, including telephoning claimants to ensure that all the healthcare information that is required for a good assessment and a good decision is in place. There are other measures as well. I hope that this will improve the situation.

Any delay in making the PIP award is stressful for the person in need of that support and creates inefficiencies in a very pressed system. A number of cases successful at first tier tribunal are challenged by the Department and then ultimately upheld. Can the Minister assure me that this number is monitored, statistically insignificant, and, in light of improvements in assessment, falling?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. In addition to the measure that I have mentioned, there are a number of other trials going on and a number of changes that our providers are making—for example, sitting down with someone and talking about the effects of their condition on their ability to live their lives prior to a medical history being gathered.

One thousand and ninety-nine people currently use the Motability scheme in Inverclyde. It can be over eight weeks before a successful appeal, and during that time claimants are without their car. What is being done to address this specific issue?

As I have reported to this House before, we have been working ever closer with Motability— a great scheme in its 40th year. We are looking at a number of issues, such as appeals; people who may wish to leave the country, whether for study, work experience, or any other reason; and potentially extending the scheme to other groups. We will report on that review as soon as we can.

Can the Minister confirm that far from cutting support for disabled people, disability spending will increase every year to 2020 relative both to 2010 and today?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that spend will increase, but it is also vital that this Government look at other issues, as we are doing—for example, on the consumer agenda. It is no good our spending money and getting the employment support right if buildings are not accessible and people cannot make use of these opportunities.

Last Thursday, at business questions, the Leader of the House stated that there would be a debate on the Government’s emergency PIP regulations, which will affect the eligibility for PIP of more than 160,000 people, mainly those with mental health conditions. However, he failed to give a date, and the praying against period comes to an end on 3 April. If there is no debate and vote before the House rises for Easter, even if the House votes against the regulations next month they will not automatically be revoked. That represents a huge democratic deficit. Will the Minister now commit to scheduling a debate and vote this week?

The hon. Lady will know that that is not within my gift; it is for the usual channels. It is not correct to say that the regulations will affect 160,000 people. [Interruption.] No, there is no policy change. There is no change to the budget, and there is no change to the guidance that we have issued to our assessment providers. It is quite wrong to raise fear by saying to people that they will be affected. No awards will be affected, and we are operating exactly the same policy and guidance in our assessment practices as we have done before.

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent personal independence payment changes on the income of people with mental illnesses. (909476)

14. What estimate he has made of the number of disabled people who will be affected by the changes introduced by the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017. (909487)

16. What estimate he has made of the number of disabled people who will be affected by the changes introduced by the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017. (909489)

Recent changes to the PIP regulations clarify the original criteria used to decide how much benefit a person receives. This is not a policy change or a budget change, and it will not result in any claimants, regardless of their health conditions, seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP they have been awarded.

Former Sergeant William Bradley, who is one of my constituents, developed severe PTSD and depression while serving in the Gulf war, and he was medically discharged from the Army in 2003. He had been on the enhanced PIP rate since 2014, but it was cut to the lower rate last year. Following an appeal, it has now been removed completely. The reply from the PIP hotline was that someone with mental health issues can work, and that this is really a benefit for people with severe physical disabilities. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this awful case, or, if PIP is not the right benefit for those with mental illness, can she explain what is?

What the hon. Lady tells me has happened is truly shocking. I would be incredibly surprised if somebody who was manning that hotline said those things to the hon. Lady. I am not saying that I doubt her story, but I would like to see that and I would like to know, if possible, the exact time that that conversation took place, because that is quite wrong. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

The statistics show that if someone has a mental health condition—if they have PTSD, dementia, a psychological disorder or another mental health condition —they are better served under this benefit. It is important that people know that.

Why did the Minister not consult the Social Security Advisory Committee, where her contentions about the impact of this benefit could have been challenged?

The Committee is within its rights to look at the decision. It did so, and it concluded that it would not formally review that decision. We have used the urgency procedure, as it was within our rights to do, to establish certainty. We do not want there to be a long period of uncertainty around this, and we do not want to be in the position of having to take money off people. What we have done is to restore that certainty. Everyone knows where they are, and people know that there is no change and their awards will not be changing.

It was a constituent of mine whose case led to the recent tribunal ruling that clarified the eligibility criteria for PIP, and to the Government’s subsequent amendments to the regulations. She lives with multiple health problems and was supported by Sheffield Citizens Advice, which is due to publish a report later this week on the wider impact of the shift from DLA to PIP and the particular effect that it is having on the over-65s. Will the Minister agree to meet me and Citizens Advice to discuss its recommendations?

I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to do so. PIP is a better benefit than DLA—it better serves a wider range of people with a wider range of conditions better—but we can always make improvements to the system, and I would be very happy to meet him.

In relation to PIP, will the Minister assure me that the DWP is engaging with those with experience of mental health conditions to ensure that our programmes and our frontline staff have a proper understanding of how a mental health condition can have an impact on someone’s life?

I can give my hon. Friend such an assurance. In addition to the user rep panels that we are introducing in April, we have been conducting a trial since mid-March—it will take about six weeks—looking at audio recording, which should involve about 400 claimants. That is a tool not just to guarantee quality, but to provide reassurance to the claimant.

Some of those who are eligible for PIP may well lose entitlement to the work-related activity group element come 1 April. Will the Minister reassure me that whether through the flexible support fund, the hardship fund or indeed third-party deals, there will be full mitigation for the losses they incur from 1 April?

I can give my hon. Friend such an assurance. People are open to apply to the financial channels he mentions if they need further support. We have been doing some work in the Department on social tariffs and budgeting, which will be rolled out across our Jobcentre Plus network, and all the elements of the support offer for that group are already in place.

Last week I had to deal with a constituent whose benefits had been stopped because she missed an appointment to be assessed for PIP. She missed that appointment because she was an in-patient in hospital in Aberdeen. Even after evidence of that had been exhibited to the Minister’s Department, it twice refused to reinstate her benefits because it said that it had done nothing procedurally wrong. Is the Minister content that that is how the system is supposed to work?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that that is not how the system is supposed to work. If there is a reasonable reason why someone has not attended an appointment, missing it should not count against them. I am quite happy to look at the case that he cites, but that should not be happening.