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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place concerning personal independence payment:

“The Supreme Court has ruled on the case known as MM, or SSWP v MM. This case was about the definition of ‘social support’, when engaging with other people face to face in the PIP assessment, and how far in advance that support can be provided.

We took this case to the Supreme Court because we wanted clarity on this issue, and the judgment now gives us that clarity. We welcome the court’s judgment. We are pleased that it accepted that there is a difference between ‘prompting’ and ‘social support’, and that there must be a need for social support to be provided by someone who is trained or experienced in providing such support.

PIP is already a better benefit for people with mental health conditions compared to the disability living allowance. The proportion who get the higher rate of PIP is five times higher than under DLA—with 33% on PIP and just 6% on DLA.

It is clear that there is an increasing understanding in society about mental health and how important it is to make sure that individuals with poor mental health get the right help. It is not an exact science, but it is one of the few areas with cross-party support.

Getting this clarity will ensure that even more people who need help to engage face to face may now be eligible to benefit under PIP. Supporting disabled people and those with mental health conditions continues to be a priority for this Government. That is why we will now carefully consider the full judgment and, working with disabled people and engaging with Mind and other stakeholders, we will implement it fully and fairly so that claimants get the support that they are entitled to now”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating an Answer to a UQ concerning a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court. The judgment, as we have heard, is to be welcomed and will mean that people with mental health problems who find social situations debilitating can now be assessed as having sufficient points to be eligible for the personal independence regime.

However, Mind—which should be thanked for its intervention in the case—suggests that, since the introduction of PIP, as many as 425,000 people with psychiatric disorders have been turned down for the benefit. Will the Minister say, therefore, what additional resources have been made available to enable past assessments to be reviewed and if necessary rectified, and what additional training is being provided to staff to enable them to better assess the needs of individuals with these conditions?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and his understanding that we welcome this judgment. As he will know, we regularly consult stakeholders to help shape the training of DWP staff, and I am proud that we now have, in respect of training, a mental health champion in each of our personal independence payment assessment centres.

We welcome this judgment, as it helps us to gain a much deeper understanding of mental health issues and conditions across society. This will, however, be a complex process, which we are committed to doing, and we will report back to the House with further information. The vast majority of the appeals require additional medical information. That is why we are piloting the scheme: so that claimants can provide this evidence at the mandatory reconsideration stage, rather than at tribunal. We are, in other words, doing all we can to continue to improve the system to support those who need help.

My Lords, is it not clear, in the light of this and other judgments, that the PIP descriptors in the field of mental health need substantial amendment? It sounds as if that is what the Government have in mind, and I am very pleased that the department is upholding the judgment as much as the rest of us. We really need a cool, hard look at all the descriptors, and for the Government to consult on them fully and come back with detailed amendments. We also need better-trained assessors and a genuine stage of mandatory reconsideration, instead of the rubber stamp that we all too often get now. There is a huge number of successful appeals and consequently an unacceptably long wait for a tribunal hearing.

I shall do my best to respond to the noble Baroness, who of course knows so much about this area. On waiting times, we are committed to processing PIP claims as quickly as possible while ensuring that we have all the evidence we need to make the right decisions. A key issue has been not having sufficient medical information in the first instance. We are working with the NHS to see what we can do to rectify that. In the last quarter, February to April 2019, 55,097 claims on average were processed each month. The average new claim or reassessment claim waits just six weeks for assessment. However, PIP is needs based and not condition based, and reviews are a key part of the benefit to ensure that the right support continues to be delivered.

In a nutshell, we believe that PIP is working so much better. There were originally some quite difficult issues around it. We are constantly working to improve the situation. That is why now have a mental health champion in each PIP assessment centre. We are making sure that there are experts behind each assessor. We have videos to help people understand what the process is so that they can feel comfortable about that engagement at the assessment centre. We also encourage people to come with a trusted third-party individual to support them through that often quite emotional process.

Yes, it is a complex process. We are committed to doing all we can. We will report back to the House with further information in relation to the Supreme Court’s decision, but we continue to spend more on supporting those with mental health issues—quite rightly.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister says about the judgment, it is clear that there are still major problems with assessment of disabled people for benefits. Figures recently obtained from the DWP under the Freedom of Information Act indicated that more than a third of PIP assessments carried out by Capita were found to be defective—up 4% in the two years since 2016. This makes it clear that things are going in the wrong direction, and not the right direction as the Government habitually claim when such concerns are raised. What can the Minister say to assure the House that the Government are getting on top of these problems?

My Lords, we are working hard to get on top of these problems, and no one is working harder than my honourable friend in another place the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP. We recognise that for the most severely disabled claimants the award review process can seem unnecessarily intrusive. That is why those with most severe lifetime disabilities are more likely to have their evidence reviewed by a DWP case manager without the need for another face-to-face assessment, which we know has caused issues. Additionally, in August 2018 we introduced updated guidance for case managers which will ensure that those who receive the highest level of support under PIP, where their needs are unlikely to change or may even get worse, will now receive an ongoing award with a light-touch review at the end of the 10-year period. As I said earlier, we are working hard with the NHS to see what more we can do to get the right medical evidence to make sure that we make the right decision in the first instance.