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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 642: debated on Monday 4 June 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the withdrawal of her appeals in relation to personal independence payment claimants with chronic conditions, and what further action she will be taking.

I am absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions get the right support they need. PIP is a modern, personalised benefit that assesses claimants on needs, not conditions. It continues to be a better benefit than its predecessor, disability living allowance, for claimants with chronic conditions. Under DLA, only 16% of claimants with diabetes received the top rate, whereas under PIP 29% receive the top rate.

I carefully considered these historical cases and decided no longer to continue with the appeals in order to provide certainty to the claimants. Since withdrawing the appeals, I have provided instructions to operational colleagues to put these claims in payment urgently. These claimants will receive any backdated moneys owed, and should receive their first payment within the coming days.

These cases were decided prior to the March 2017 amending regulations—the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017—in which the Government clarified our policy for managing therapy under PIP daily living activity 3. These regulations are not affected by our decision to withdraw these appeals.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

The announcement during the recess that, for the second time this year, the Secretary of State has withdrawn appeals, this time on daily living activity 3 of the PIP assessment—the component on managing therapy or monitoring health conditions—raises serious questions. I would therefore be grateful to the Secretary of State if she told me now how many people she estimates have been incorrectly assessed on the PIP daily living activity 3 descriptor who have either been denied support or have had reduced support.

Will the Department be undertaking a review of past claims relating to this descriptor to identify other claimants who may have been underpaid or denied support? If so, when will the process start and be completed? I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reassurance that it will take days. Will additional staff be recruited to undertake this process? What assessment has the Department made of the average award to which claimants will be entitled, and when will the payments be backdated to? Will there be an appeal process for PIP claimants who are not contacted by the Department who believe that they should receive back payments? What assessment has she made of the administrative and legal costs to her Department and the public purse?

Given the Secretary of State’s concession in these test cases, does she accept that the changes made in the March 2017 PIP regulations regarding activity 3 are illegal? Given also that there is a review of 1.6 million PIP cases to identify the estimated 220,000 people who have been underpaid with regard to the mobility activity component, will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the 1.6 million PIP claims have been reviewed to date and when the exercise will be completed? How many of the estimated 220,000 people affected have received back payments to date?

With a record of 69% of PIP decisions being overturned on appeal, it is clear that the assessment process is not fit for purpose. The recent report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on the process said that the assessments caused unnecessary stress and anxiety for thousands of people who have been denied support unfairly, as well as wasting public money by sending many decisions back to the courts. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on PIP, and will she immediately stop the reassessment of disabled people with progressive conditions?

Today’s urgent question was specifically about the cases of AN and JM, on which I have given a decision. For the purposes of clarity, it was not to continue with the court case. Any other issues that the hon. Lady raised are separate, and the question of whether we move on and do other things is not for discussion today. There is a further case under way, and I am sure Mr Speaker would agree that it would be incorrect for me to discuss an ongoing legal case, so I cannot do so. However, for the claimants on whose claims this urgent question was granted, I have, for the sake of clarity, withdrawn the appeal.

We are talking separately about the mobility issue, on which I have given regular updates to the House. We have been working with stakeholders to create new guidance, and we have consulted claimants and stakeholders. We seem to be on schedule for the first payment to go out to them at the start of the summer.

As the Secretary of State knows, I have written to her about a number of complaints that I have received from constituents about PIP. While it may not be completely on point with the question asked by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), I would respectfully say to the Secretary of State that my concern is not about PIP, which is a very good benefit, but about Capita in my area and the assessments. I have a constituent with a severe brain injury, who is receiving DLA and other benefits. He was assessed for PIP and got a zero. He then went through the process and, rightly so, got the full amount. I would be happy to discuss that with my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, but we need to look at the assessments.

I will of course meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this. Over 3 million people have gone for PIP assessments, and while there have been appeals by 9% of them, 4% of those have been overturned. The vast majority of people are receiving awards, and under PIP rather than DLA far more people are receiving higher awards. Under this Government, from 2010 right the way through to 2022, more money will go to disabled people in need than under DLA in 2010. As I said, I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend.

I call Marsha De Cordova. [Interruption.] Ah, there has been a change of personnel. I was advised that it would be the hon. Member for Battersea. Never mind, I call Margaret Greenwood.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this urgent question. I was disappointed to hear the Secretary of State be so dismissive of concerns that have been expressed by Members right across the House. For the second time this year, the Secretary of State has been forced to acknowledge that her Department has made a serious error in assessing claims for personal independence payments. The previous error resulted in potentially 220,000 people being underpaid PIP, causing misery that could and should have been avoided. The Secretary of State now admits a second error, this time relating to activity 3 of the daily living component, “Managing therapy or monitoring a health condition”. The Department has again got the law wrong on interpreting PIP descriptors, leading to perhaps thousands of disabled people not getting the crucial support that they need.

In January, when the DWP last admitted that there had been an error, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) asked the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work a series of questions that should have been answered but still have not been. If anyone is to have confidence in the Department, the Secretary of State must now answer our questions.

How quickly will the Department be able to identify claimants? Will the Secretary of State publish her criteria for reviewing cases? Will she include the cases that did not originally score sufficient points? Exactly how many claimants have been wrongly assessed for PIP? What assessment has she made of the administrative cost to her Department of undertaking yet another complex exercise? Given that this is the second error in the Department’s interpretation of its own guidance to come to light in six months, what reason do disabled people have to believe that her Department is fit for purpose?

This is a brand new benefit that, for the first time, looks not just at people with physical disabilities, but fundamentally at all the disabilities people have—cognitive, sensory, health and mental health conditions—and supports more people than DLA ever did.

Nobody was forced to come here to explain why I did not appeal the mobility case. I made a decision by myself, which I thought was true and in keeping with how PIP was designed, and I made sure that we did not seek leave to appeal that.

There was a period of uncertainty for the five months between the court case and when the new regulations came into play. I agreed that in the cases of AN and JM, they should not be living in uncertainty. I believe that in both instances, I have done the right thing in not seeking leave to appeal.

I appreciate that the Opposition do not like to hear the fact that we have, I would say, made a positive move by not seeking to appeal and by supporting these extra people. No one would believe it from the screams from the Opposition Benches, but what I have decided to do and what this Government have decided to do is to support disabled people as best we can and to provide this new benefit, which is a personalised, forward-looking benefit, which was not the case with DLA.

How many claimants will be affected by this decision, which I welcome? Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that it will in no way impact on her sterling efforts to ensure that more disabled people find their way into work?

My hon. Friend raises several questions about helping disabled people into work. Over the last three years, we have helped more than 600,000 people into work. People will know that PIP is a benefit for those in work and those out of work, and we have helped another 200,000 people in work through PIP. This is what we are about: supporting disabled people who are in work and out of work, and bringing in a more tailored and personalised benefit. What I will say is that if something has gone wrong and if something is not right, we will correct it to make sure that people get the payments they deserve.

The credibility of this Department lies in tatters. The Secretary of State celebrates the fact that the Government are not appealing this decision, but the fact remains that they had to be dragged through the courts in the first place to be proven wrong.

I have some questions for the Secretary of State. Will she commit to ensuring that the money for the back payments does not come out of existing DWP budgets? When will the first payments be made and will they be fully backdated, so that nobody loses out? Why are decision makers making decisions as if the High Court case never happened? I have constituency cases in which people are being assessed under unlawful criteria and then forced into the appeals process, all of which delays payments to which they are fully entitled and means that they are living in poverty. When will new guidance be issued to Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants, because there is so much confusion out there that nobody is aware of what they are entitled to?

This Department is in no fit state to be undertaking the biggest shake-up of social security this country has ever seen. It is incompetent and failing the most vulnerable in our society, and the Secretary of State must do something about it.

I reiterate that under PIP we are supporting more people than before and giving them a higher rate than they ever got before. If the hon. Lady is questioning whether money is being handed out to people who need it now, I ask her to consider how many fewer people were getting that support under DLA, the previous disability benefit. On the mobility component, in respect of which I rightly did not seek leave to appeal, we are supporting an extra 200,000 people—I take it that both sides of the House agree I should be helping an extra 200,000 people. That is what we are doing. That is what we are aiming to do. I think I said earlier that the first payments would be made at the start of the summer; I meant at the end of the summer. As I said, in respect of the specific cases that gave rise to the urgent question, those concerned will get their first payment in the coming days.

How much money was spent on disability payments in 2010, how much is being spent today, how much will be spent in 2020, and when will the Secretary of State introduce recordings of PIP assessments?

I can tell my hon. Friend that the expenditure has continued to go up and will go up every year until 2022; it has increased from 2010. For PIP, DLA and attendance allowance alone, expenditure is £5.4 billion higher than it was in 2010. There will be future announcements on the continuous improvements for PIP, but I can say now that we want to introduce video recording—that is key—and when we do we will start with pilots to make sure it is right. We want a modern benefit that looks after and reaches out to disabled people and gives them the money they should be getting.

The Secretary of State has acknowledged that the new benefits are available for a wider range of conditions, including neurological conditions and mental illness. What steps is she taking to ensure that the assessors are fully competent to make these judgments on the wider range of conditions?

We provide consistent training and updating and have mental health champions in place. Of course we constantly review what we do and constantly support our assessors; that is what is needed going forward.

It is important to put the urgent question and the comments from the Opposition in context. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are spending more than £50 billion on supporting sick and disabled people, and that we spend more in this country on supporting disabled people than any other country in the G7, barring Germany?

As ever, my hon. Friend is correct. We are spending more than £50 billion, and are proud to do so, to support disabled people who need it. This Conservative Government are supporting more people and giving them the higher rate they need, and we will continue to do that.

But the Secretary of State has been dragged to the House by an urgent question to talk about her decision not to pursue the appeal in these cases concerning activity 3 of the daily living component. She has very coyly failed completely to answer the question of how many people her decision affects. We know that 165 million people receive the component—[Interruption.] I mean 1.65 million—it is still a lot. Will she now answer: how many people are affected directly by the decision she took in the recess to withdraw the appeal, when will these people get the right amount of money and when will they be assured that they have not been illegally underpaid?

The urgent question was about two cases in particular. This is about those two cases: it is about two people who were affected, and who will receive their money immediately. We are assessing the position, but that is what the urgent question was about. If Members want to talk about matters outside the scope of the urgent question, that will be for a different occasion and a different day.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is considering simplifying the PIP assessment forms to make the process of applying for the benefit less stressful for people?

That is correct. As we work with stakeholders, including people with disabilities, we seek to make the process smoother, easier and more beneficial for people in need, and that is exactly what we will be doing.

This is not the only PIP case that the Government have lost. On 21 December 2017, the High Court ruled that PIP changes made earlier in the year had been “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions, and “cannot be objectively justified”. However, six months later, there is still no confirmed timetable for the full implementation of the High Court’s judgment and the delivery of back payments to the people affected. Will the Secretary of State tell us today—six months on—when that High Court ruling will be implemented?

I have answered that question several times today. As I have said, we have been preparing new guidance and consulting stakeholders on what is best for that guidance and how to work through it. As I have also said, the first payments will be made at the end of the summer. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, having to assess such a number of people will take—and has taken—a bit of time, but the process has been thorough and correct.

It is interesting to hear criticism of the decision not to carry on fighting with lawyers. It seems that some people would have preferred the Secretary of State to carry on and appeal against the ruling, wasting money on further legal challenge. Will she reassure me, however, that she is considering the recording of the PIP assessment process to provide quality assurance, and to ensure that the points raised by this case are taken up in future assessments?

My hon. Friend is right. As I said earlier, more than 3 million assessments have been carried out, 9% have been appealed against and 4% have been overturned, so it is clear that the vast majority are right. However, we want to ensure as far as we can that all of them are right. If that means recording assessments—and I personally would prefer video recording—that is what we should do, so that everyone can have confidence in what is going on.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. PIP applicants who are wards of court because, owing to brain injuries, they are unable to make any decisions for themselves must nevertheless go through the application process and are subject to house visits, although, according to the court, they cannot be allowed to make any financial or personal decisions. Is it not time that such people did not have to go through a process that clearly disadvantages them and causes considerable trauma and angst?

We have a clear process for people who are vulnerable and need extra support during the process. If the hon. Gentleman is thinking of a specific case that he would like to raise with me, I ask him please to do so, so that we can establish what happened in that instance.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that not only are more people able to claim PIP than were able to claim DLA, but satisfaction has risen, as has been proved by satisfaction surveys?

My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Satisfaction levels have risen and the number of people receiving this benefit has risen, as has the number of people receiving the highest amount—not that anyone would know that from what we are hearing from Opposition Members.

Perhaps the Secretary of State can also explain why brave service personnel suffering from chronic conditions, including PTSD, are being denied access to their PIP entitlements. I have been contacted by a litany of constituents in recent weeks and others supported by the Welsh Veterans Partnership, including my constituent Justin Smith, whose medical discharge documents have been refused by the DWP, while others have been unable to get through on phone lines or are being refused home visits, against DWP guidance. Can the Secretary of State explain what is going on in her Department?

I want to follow up the specific instances the hon. Gentleman raises, as that does not sound right at all and I would not want that to be the case. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to bring those cases forward so that we can look into them immediately.

Is there a formal review process in place for assessments that can be responsive to any trends or issues that might arise?

My hon. Friend raises the good point of how we can make the assessments better: how can we make sure they are consistent and the best we can possibly do? We are constantly reassessing them and trying to make the service even better, whether through videos to help people, improved guidance for GPs and healthcare professionals, improved communications, or special software so that people with disabilities can read about the service. Those are the sort of constant improvements we are carrying out, and we will continue to do that so as to make sure we have the best system possible.

Mr Justice Mostyn in his ruling on Motability, which the Government also accepted, said of the 2017 regulations:

“The wish to save nearly £1 billion at the expense of those with mental health impairments is not a reasonable foundation for passing this measure.”

The Secretary of State has made a welcome second U-turn, so do the Government recognise that not cutting corporation tax might have been a fairer and more honourable way of balancing the books?

We have not saved any money; let me make that point clear now. We spend more money on PIP, and will continue to do so to 2022—more money every year from 2010 than we ever spent on DLA. If I can dispel the myth that anybody is saving any money through moving from DLA to PIP, that will be the best thing I can do today. This Conservative Government will be spending more on disabled people through PIP from 2010 through to 2022.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today because I do not believe that fighting these cases in court is in the long-term benefit of anyone in this country, so I congratulate her on that. Clearly any of these PIP assessments can be incredibly stressful for our constituents and the system must react when mistakes have been made or situations are difficult. But anecdotally what I am hearing, especially from people with degenerative diseases like MS, is that the PIP system is working better than DLA. Many statistics have been bandied around today, but one statistic is that 30% rather than 15% are now getting the top level of benefit, and that is making a real difference to many individual lives. Can my right hon. Friend confirm today whether the number of assessment appeals is going up or down and whether the percentage of those being accepted as against those being rejected is going up or down?

I have already given the numbers, which show that we are getting the vast majority right: 9% are appealing and 4% are being overturned. This brand new benefit is a personal and modern benefit, and we are adjusting it so that it meets the needs of a 21st century benefit. That is what we are seeking to do. So for the first time we are looking at mental health conditions and exploring the extra support we can give there. This Government, across all Departments, are spending £11 billion more on mental health, so under PIP 66% are getting the higher daily living rate, whereas the figure for that under DLA would have been 22%.

The Secretary of State has failed to say how many people can expect their PIP to be restored as a consequence of this appeal; she said that it will be the two people involved in the two cases mentioned. Will she undertake to come back and make a statement to this House when she has had a chance to research that and tell us which of our constituents can expect to have their PIP reinstated and how many are involved?

If I did not say it clearly enough at the start, this was an urgent question granted specifically on two cases. There is another case going through the court at the moment, which would be sub judice and I would not be allowed to speak about it at the Dispatch Box—[Interruption.]

So today, we are discussing those two specific cases and that is what I am talking about. I appreciate that there is a lot of noise from Opposition Members, but they obviously do not understand what sub judice means—[Interruption.]

Order. The Government are a party to the case, and I am advised that, strictly speaking, the case is not sub judice—[Interruption.] Order. There seems to be a lot of noise and all sorts of naysaying and unattractive chuntering from a sedentary position. If the Secretary of State wished to go beyond the narrow terms of the urgent question, especially in view of the fact that its wording refers to “further action” by the Government, the Chair would not wish to stand in her way. It is a matter for her to judge. However, there is no need for this cacophony from a sedentary position. It is really rather unseemly, and I feel sure that it will now cease.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As has been mentioned, it is six months since the Government agreed to change the position of people suffering from mental health issues not being awarded mobility support. I too have several veterans suffering from PTSD, including one particularly tragic case of a young man who was involved in two explosions on his patrol, where he was covered in blood, diesel and body parts. He has had to sell his car, but he cannot face getting on a bus because the stench of diesel brings on flashbacks. His application for mobility support was turned down. When will the Government bring in the changes and the new guidance so that people can get a fair assessment?

I appreciate the personal story that the hon. Lady has just told me. We are gradually getting in touch with all the people who might have been affected by the fact that I decided not to appeal so that the claimants could be supported, and her constituent will be contacted in due course. We have been working through the guidance, and the first set of people will be getting paid by late summer. To follow up on the point that Mr Speaker raised, I took legal advice before I came into the Chamber today about what I could say about an ongoing legal position. The advice was that I should not be talking about an ongoing legal case, but obviously when we get that decision through, I will either be back here with a statement or making a written statement to explain what is going on.

PIP is of course a valuable benefit payment, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are working to ensure that a further 1 million disabled people end up in work?

My hon. Friend is correct. That is what we are looking to do, and in the last couple of years we have helped 600,000 disabled people into work. We have given extra support through PIP, because that can be an in-work or an out-of-work benefit, and we are also helping through Access to Work. This is about enabling people so that they can live as full a life as possible in society. That is what this Conservative Government are about.

I chair two all-party parliamentary groups: on motor neurone disease and on Parkinson’s. Research conducted by the groups, in conjunction with the charities, on the transition from DLA to PIP has shown that 25% of people with motor neurone disease—a progressive, degenerative, life-ending condition—had a reduction when transitioning to PIP. It also showed that 25% of those with Parkinson’s lost some or all of their benefit, but that 70% of those people had it returned on appeal. How can the Secretary of State say that the system is working when this disaster is being faced by very ill people?

As I have said throughout, we look to get things right first time, but we have processes in place. If things are not right, there is a reconsideration process, and if that is not right, there is an appeal process. Cases are usually turned around because people bring in extra medical information, and more people are getting the higher rate than ever before. The hon. Lady is quite right, however, that we need to be able to give people the support that they need.

If the hon. Gentleman can assure me that he was here at the start of the exchanges, it would be a great pleasure to hear from him.

It is good that my right hon. Friend can be answering for two individual claimants and that she has given the background about the increase in disability spending. May I also say, “Thank you,” for saying that we can refer to individual cases? I have a victim of the infected blood scandal who is being asked to attend an assessment, but I do not think that an ordinary PIP assessor will actually understand what that person has been through for the past 20 or 30 years. Some such things need to be dealt with far more sympathetically and appropriately.

We must ensure that we understand the individual circumstances and the extra support that people need. That will come through this modern benefit, which really does acknowledge a wider cohort of disabilities than ever before. That is what we are trying to get right.

I have spoken to countless constituents who are completely petrified by the PIP process, which causes debilitating stress and anxiety that, in some cases, compounds the effects of their existing condition. When will the Secretary of State go back to the drawing board and come up with a benefit that represents a more humane method of supporting those who need it the most?

Through the extra guidance, the videos and the support that a companion who accompanies the individual can offer, we need to ensure that individuals do not think that the assessment will be scary or petrifying. We have to calm their nerves to ensure that they go for an assessment to get the money that they need. We have to set about making the environment something that they want to go through. Opposition Members do not always help their constituents, because what they sometimes say in the Chamber spreads unnecessary fear.

I may have studied for my law degree a long time ago, but I certainly remember that a case is no longer ongoing when an appeal is withdrawn by one of the parties.

Would the Secretary of State like to explain why so many victims of the contaminated blood scandal who received DLA for life are now being refused the support that they so badly need under PIP?

Just to clarify, I am talking about two specific cases today. Another case is ongoing, but we will not be talking about that because we are waiting for the decision. They are all linked together, but that is the difference between that case and the other two.

We must ensure that the right people are getting the support that they need, and more people are getting that support. We have a reconsideration process and an appeals process for anybody who wants to query why they are not getting support.

On Friday, a constituent told me that when they received their PIP assessment it did not reflect the truth of the conversation that they had had with the assessor. That happens too often to be just coincidence. What is the Department doing to get proper quality assurance in place, so that we do not have constituents coming forward with the same tale again and again?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We must have faith in the conversations and assessments, which is why I have looked forward to having them videoed to ensure that we see, hear and know what is going on. If the process is videoed, people will get an honest appraisal of what went on and, equally, we might see a more suitable conversation between the assessor and the individual.

On Friday a constituent came to my surgery. It was quite obvious, and he explained to me, that he struggles to function due to a combination of excruciating pain in his shoulders and the severe and heavy pain medication he is on, yet he got zero points for mobility and lost his appeal. Hopefully there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel for him, but what comfort does the Secretary of State think he will get from her standing and bragging that the Government have not appealed, that more money is being spent and that more people missed out on DLA, because that is not helping my constituent?

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that anybody was bragging. It is known as just putting the facts on the record after people have sometimes sought to provide misinformation or incorrect facts, merely by stating that more people are getting the higher benefits and more people are getting PIP than were getting DLA. That really needs to be heard so that we dispel any myths from the Opposition.

The Secretary of State suggests that PIP is more generous than DLA. Can she confirm that the Department’s analysis shows that, once it is fully rolled out, PIP will support 500,000 fewer disabled people than DLA? Can she conform that, six months after the Government admitted that a previous mistake on assessments affected 220,000 disabled people, not one of those disabled people is receiving the full benefit to which they are lawfully entitled?

What we can say is that the reality is that more people are getting PIP than are getting DLA.

Why does it take the DWP to be staring down the barrel of losing a case in court for it to admit that it is unfairly and illegally penalising disabled people? What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that no further cases have to progress this far, with all the consequent suffering and expense to the taxpayer?

It was in my first couple of days in this job as Secretary of State that I sought not to appeal the court case. There was no staring down a barrel and no waiting for me; I did it within a couple of days. Why? Because I think we have to live up to what PIP was meant to be and to the people it was meant to support.

When these two court cases were brought to my attention, which was only a couple of weeks ago, I did exactly the same thing. I will look at the cases when they are brought to me, and I will make sure that this Government do the right thing to support the right people the vast majority of the time.

Following on from those assertions, is the Secretary of State actually telling Parliament that her decision in these cases was not influenced in any way by any legal advice she may have had on the likelihood of losing had the cases gone the full course?

What I have said is that I saw it on day one, pretty much, of coming into this job. I looked at what I deemed was the correct thing to do, knowing how PIP was brought about, and I made what I felt was the right decision.