My Lords, there are no plans to amend the mobility criteria in personal independence payment. The Government consulted extensively when designing the criteria, including a specific consultation on the “moving around” activity. The criteria provide a more consistent assessment for claimants with both physical and non-physical impairments, and there are now 22,000 more people on the Motability scheme than before PIP was introduced.
My Lords, I note the Minister’s reply. As she will recognise, this Question arises from a debate that was led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, about a month ago. That was about the qualifying criteria for the enhanced mobility component under PIP—particularly that those who could reliably walk no more than just 20 metres will not qualify, losing £35 a week and vital support to live independent lives. When the Minister responded to that debate, she asserted that claimants who cannot walk up to 50 metres would be guaranteed the enhanced rate. I think there has been some pulling back from that position, which is regrettable. Given that the Minister was clearly content to enunciate the policy relating to 50 metres, will she not now actively join others in seeking the reinstatement of the 50-metre benchmark as a research base measure of significant mobility impairment?
My Lords, I have issued a correction of the response to the Official Report. It is indeed possible for those who are unable reliably to walk more than 20 metres to get the enhanced rate, but there is no generally accepted measurement of distance that will be recognised as appropriate. The aim of the enhanced rate is, and always was under DLA, to help people who are either unable or virtually unable to walk. Under PIP, the test is widened so that it is not just those who are unable or virtually unable to walk, but those who have barriers to mobility and who find it difficult to get around. These issues need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. They are expertly assessed. Indeed, we engaged directly with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, subsequent to that debate as we want to get this right.
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, but on the consultation that the Minister mentioned, the Government took absolutely no notice of more than 1,000 responses that were quite clear. My question is about the tribunal hearings. The Government’s own research shows that for claimants whose appeal is allowed, often their evidence is oral evidence, not just written evidence from doctors. In other words, the assessors are not asking the right questions, they are not listening to the answers, or the policy is too confusing. What is going on if that is the case?
The noble Baroness obviously makes a very well-informed point. I can assure the House that the Minister for Disabled People is actively working on this; we want to get it right. We are trying to improve the original assessment. Obviously it is in everyone’s interest to get the correct decision as early as possible, so we are now giving assessors an extra 10 working days to help applicants gather their information. Many appeals succeed because they produce new evidence that was not available at the time of the original assessment.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Government recently facilitated a meeting between Atos, Capita and the Royal British Legion, where I was privileged to work as its head of public affairs. Will my noble friend join me in congratulating Charles Byrne on his appointment as the new director-general of the legion? Will she undertake to explore how more disabled people, such as injured veterans, might be encouraged to apply to be PIP assessors?
I certainly join my noble friend in congratulating the new director-general. I have already been working on his excellent suggestion and have made inquiries about how many of our assessors are disabled. I am assured that applications for assessors are open to people regardless of disability. Indeed, we would welcome disabled people applying to be assessors as they would be very well placed to make these assessments, but we do not have the figures at the moment to be able to report to the House how many of our assessors are disabled.
My Lords, nearly 14,000 disabled people have been forced to give up their Motability car following implementation of the new PIP rules on mobility. Motability provides a support package to anyone forced to leave the scheme as a result. This helps people to remain mobile, in many cases by purchasing a used car. What support will the Government give to Motability to enable it to provide the support package for those forced off the scheme?
The noble Lord rightly cites that Motability offers a support package. It has volunteered to do so given its financial position, and very generously offered to help those who lose their Motability car. I stress that although some people lost their cars, overall some 22,000 more people now have a Motability car under the PIP scheme.
My Lords, when the Minister wrote to me to put the record straight after the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, she conceded that her original statement that there was not a 20-metre rule was wrong. In fact, somebody who could walk 20 metres but not 50 metres could get the enhanced rate of PIP only if there was something else going on; for example, they might have a learning disability and struggle to plan a journey. When we come back to basics, this means that somebody who can walk only a very short distance, the length of two buses, will lose their Motability car simply because they will now fail a test they would once have passed. This test has been used for 35 years, is based on research evidence, and is used for the blue badge, the guidance on the built environment and lots of other tests. The Government got this one wrong. Will they not accept that now?
The noble Baroness has significant expertise in this area. Once again, I apologise for the incorrect statement that I read out during the debate. However, I am assured that it is not a strict 20-metre rule and that some people who cannot walk more than 20 metres—of course, the reliability criterion is also important here—will receive the higher rate. I repeat that the aim was to ensure that we support at the highest rate people who are unable or virtually unable to walk. There is no one particular test—the 50-metre test is not a recognised one, either—for someone who is unable or virtually unable to walk. We are keeping this closely under review. It is widely accepted by stakeholders that PIP is now in a settled and improving state.