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Contracted-out Health Assessments

Volume 631: debated on Monday 13 November 2017

3. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for employment and support allowance and personal independence payments. (901834)

We are committed to ensuring that claimants receive high-quality, fair and accurate assessments. The DWP monitors assessment quality closely through independent audit. Assessment reports deemed unacceptable are returned for reworking. A range of measures, including provider improvement plans, address performance falling below expected standards. The DWP continually looks to improve the assessment process.

My constituency office is inundated with people dissatisfied and distressed after their personal independence payment assessment. In the light of statistics showing an almost ninefold increase in complaints to the Department, what analysis has been made of the assessment process?

We are of course constantly striving to improve the assessment process. It is worth pointing out that the total number of complaints is about 1% of the total number of PIP assessments, but we continue to work closely with the assessors to ensure that this can be delivered as effectively as possible.

The vast majority of successful appeals are successful because of late additional evidence. What further consideration has been given to sharing data between the two different assessments and to providing for automatic access to health records—where the claimant is willing—in advance of an assessment?

My hon. Friend raises an important point and is absolutely right about the reason for the majority of overturned decisions. We continually look at how to increase co-ordination between the PIP and employment and support allowance assessment processes, and that is certainly something we are considering.

My constituent has a life-limiting illness, and her medical consultant has confirmed that it affects even the most basic daily activities. Without a transplant, she has approximately two to three years left to live. She has just been turned down for a personal independence payment. Will the Secretary of State please undertake to look into the position as a matter of urgency? Will he also confirm that compassionate Conservatism is officially dead?

My answer to the hon. Lady’s first question is that I will, of course, happily look into that case if she will provide me with the details.

For our constituents a health assessment is an incredibly important moment, and it can be very distressing. I have been calling for routine recording of assessments, to provide evidence if they go wrong and also because recording in itself should sometimes change behaviour for the better. Will my right hon. Friend give me an update on the recording pilots?

We are indeed looking into that. My hon. Friend has made an important point about the need for independent auditing of assessments to ensure that the advice provided by the decision-makers is of suitable quality, fully explained and justified, and recording is one of various options that we are considering to bring about those improvements.

Let me start by welcoming the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), to her place.

There has been a 900% increase in the number of complaints about personal independence payment assessments. Statistics from HM Courts & Tribunals Service show that both the number of appeals lodged and the proportion of DWP decisions overturned have increased. There was a 67% increase in the number of appeals in the first quarter of 2017 in comparison with the same period last year. Just last week, Britain’s most senior tribunal judge said that most of the benefit cases that reach the courts are based on bad decisions when the DWP has no case at all. The quality of evidence—

Order. We need a question mark very soon. Forgive me, but the hon. Lady’s text does seem extensive. I know that she is new to the Front Bench, and I am listening to her with interest and respect, but we must proceed speedily, because otherwise Back Benchers lose out. I know that she is coming to a question in her next sentence.

I certainly am, Mr Speaker. What action is the Secretary of State taking to improve the PIP assessment framework, the accuracy of decision-making and the standards of mandatory reconsiderations, and will he stop wasting taxpayers’ money on unnecessary and lengthy tribunal appeals?

Let me put the position in context. Since personal independence payments were introduced in 2013, the DWP has carried out more than 2.6 million assessments. As I said earlier, the total number of complaints received equates to fewer than 1% of all assessments. Our latest research shows that 76% of PIP claimants are satisfied with their overall experience. Of those 2.6 million decisions, 8% have been appealed against, 4% successfully. Of course, we constantly strive to improve the PIP system, but, as I have said, it should be seen in context.

Last week I was able to spend a day at the Alloa jobcentre in my constituency and observe what is going well and what is going not so well with some of our welfare reforms, including universal credit and PIP. One issue that arose was the length of time that people are waiting for health and work capability assessments. What penalties are being levied against some of the third-party companies that are involved in the assessments, and what could be done to close the gap for our constituents?

The timing of both ESA or PIP assessments has improved in recent months: the waiting time has been reduced. I welcome that, but we continue to work closely with the providers of the assessments to ensure that their performance is adequate.