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Health Assessments

Volume 656: debated on Monday 18 March 2019

17. What recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for (i) employment and support allowance and (ii) personal independence payment. (909845)

25. What recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for (i) employment and support allowance and (ii) personal independence payment. (909853)

We are committed to ensuring that individuals receive high quality assessments. Providers are closely monitored against a range of measures, including through independent audit, to improve the accuracy of the advice they provide to decision makers. We continually look to improve the efficiency of the assessment process by working closely with our providers.

Quite apart from the problems with and maladministration of work capability and PIP assessments, I have requested that Ministers consider the passporting of people who were affected by the contaminated blood scandal, so that the benefits they are currently on are passported on to the new benefits. I do not understand, when there is a public inquiry into the scandal, why these people are still having to go through the assessments.

I know that the hon. Lady has campaigned for a number of years on this incredibly important issue, and I pay tribute to the diligence of her work. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Some 72% of personal independence payment appeals were successful in the first three months of last year, which is an appalling failure rate. It is my understanding that Scottish Ministers have had power over the administration of personal independence payment since the Scotland Act 2016 came into effect, and that they would have the power to usurp the failed system and adopt a new one. Why is it taking so long to do it?

From my former role as Minister for Disabled People, I know that Scottish Ministers had the opportunity to take that forward. We are willing to work with their officials to make that possible if they wish to proceed. The ball is very much in their court.

I declare a family interest in the answer to my question. The undoubted problems with health assessments are causing delays in the appeal process right across the board, not just with PIP and others, but with disability living allowance and mobility allowances. Will the Minister agree to see me and discuss how we can accelerate the process, because some appeals take more than 39 weeks to come to fruition, with the effect that children have to wait over a year before they get their proper allowances?

I am sure that the Minister will agree to see the right hon. Gentleman. It would be extraordinarily reckless and foolhardy to refuse to do so, and I am sure that the Minister would never be reckless or foolhardy.

It will be a pleasure to meet my right hon. Friend. We have been working very closely with the Ministry of Justice to improve the capacity within the tribunal system, to speed up the process. The Secretary of State has set out ambitious plans to improve the mandatory reconsideration stage to reduce the number of decisions that are going on to the independent appeal part.

Will the Department and Ministers join me in paying tribute to Disability Support Project in Redditch, which does some great work to help disabled people to navigate the bureaucracy surrounding the system? Will the Minister outline when we will see a difference on the ground from some of the measures that he is putting in place to improve transparency of the assessment procedures?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the fantastic work that her local organisation does. Those with that frontline experience have to be at the heart of the improvements that we take forward. We engage very proactively and constructively with stakeholders, national and local, and they are helping to shape the improvements.

22. In a written answer, the former disability Minister, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), said that DWP auditors can grade health assessment reports as amendments required and that the DWP is not prescriptive in how changes should be made to health assessment reports. Will the Minister confirm that while changes are not prescriptive, the auditors, who are not present during assessments, can mandate required sweeping changes that can drastically affect a person’s claim? (909850)

We are always reviewing that process and we work very closely with stakeholders, with their wealth of experience, to make sure that we continue to deliver improvements.