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Personal Independence Payment: Assessments

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to improve the outcome of Personal Independence Payment assessments in the light of the increasing number of successful appeals.

My Lords, we want assessments for PIP to be right first time, every time. This would certainly negate the need for appeals. You might say that this is a tall order, but that is what we must go for. Of the 3 million decisions made since the personal independence payment was introduced, 9% of all decisions have been appealed and 4% of all decisions have been successfully appealed. We are determined to continue learning and making improvements to ensure that decisions are right first time. For example, we introduced 150 presenting officers who provide valuable feedback from tribunals, and we intend to make video recording of PIP assessment a standard part of the process.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but the latest statistics show that nearly two-thirds of initial decisions are overturned by appeals, which are very stressful, not to say very expensive. Therefore, either the process is flawed or the assessors are not good enough—both, probably. Will she agree to hold a meeting with stakeholders from relevant charities to discuss the way forward?

I completely understand the stress that people have to go through in an appeal. I heard somebody say last week that they were dreading their PIP reassessment. That is clearly unacceptable, but we are working all the time to improve the assessments to ensure that the assessors are up to the job. It is often in collecting the evidence and information at the final-stage appeal that material comes forward that has an impact on the outcome of the appeal. We have to make sure that information is available sooner rather than later.

In preparing for the Question, I also discussed health professionals being written to for clarification on matters during the appeal process. Large numbers of them do not respond, which is most unhelpful. I cannot give you numbers, but it is certainly something that I will take further with officials. The noble Baroness will know that I will meet anybody, but I am afraid that the Minister for Disabled People has got there before us and is committed to hosting a session where she and officials will take the Disability Charities Consortium through how we can improve and increase satisfaction in the process. I suggest that the noble Baroness makes sure that she has a seat at that table.

My Lords, we know that the current PIP and ESA contracts are drawing to a close. In both cases, the decision to contract out was driven by a perceived need to introduce efficient, consistent and objective tests for benefit eligibility. Given that none of the providers has ever hit the quality performance targets required and that many claimants experience a great deal of anxiety during the process, is it not time to consider whether the market is capable of delivering assessments at the required level and of rebuilding claimant trust? Does the Minister not think that these assessments are better delivered in-house? For how much longer can we allow the system to fail sick and disabled people?

The noble Lord raises very valid points; he is right to raise them. Extending the contracts does not mean accepting past poor performance—in fact, the DWP Select Committee accepted the extensions as the correct thing to do—but there is a need for stability to support continued improvement. Just to disband those contracts would certainly not give us that stability. We have to work with suppliers to ensure that they build on progress during any extension. We are looking at a two-year extension, which, if I have understood it correctly, will give the department time to look at the possibility of an in-house service.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for saying that improved performance is important. Does she agree that it is quite difficult for non-disabled people who do not have direct experience of living with a disability to fully appreciate the challenges that can come with it? I would be grateful if she would write to me to say how many PIP assessors are disabled and what plans her department has to increase their number.

That is a very important question and a good point to raise. I do not know how many assessors are disabled, so I will find out and write to my noble friend. I can say that the assessors are recruited because of their competence in identifying people’s needs with the conditions they have. All of us pay tribute to people who have to live with their conditions; I sometimes have no idea what it must be like to live with those conditions.

My Lords, personal independence payments make a significant difference to those living with mental health difficulties. Sadly, Mind found that only 8% of the 800 it surveyed felt that the assessor understood their mental health and 90% felt that the claims process itself had a negative impact on their well-being. Will Her Majesty’s Government require assessment providers to ensure that they hire more assessors with proper experience of working with people with mental health issues, and audit the quality of the mental health training?

I will certainly pass on the point that the right reverend Prelate raises in relation to assessors having an understanding, directly or indirectly, of mental health issues. On DLA, 6% of recipients received the top rate, while with PIP that has gone to 30%. The issue of mental health is on everybody’s agenda and we are doing more to help people get the support that they need.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response on the introduction of recording of interviews. When is that planned to start? A number of people have asked if they can record their own assessments and have been told recently that they may not do so, which means that the power is very much in the hands of the assessor. We know that many appeals happen because people have been misrepresented in the written assessment reports, which has resulted in successful appeals.

My understanding is that pilots of recording will start in the summer. We are trying to make sure that we encourage companions to attend and participate at the assessment—you have somebody with you at the appeal, and we want to make sure that they are there sooner. The facility for verbal recording exists now and there is a pilot to do video recording, so that the whole thing is on record.