Baroness Thomas: Overhaul Personal Independence Payment scoring and do away with ‘hostile atmosphere’
Ahead of her Oral Question in the House of Lords, Baroness Thomas of Winchester writes on improving the outcome of Personal Independence Payment assessments for PoliticsHome.
Why is it proving so difficult to get PIP right? The Government are rightly proud of the fact that more people are getting PIP than DLA, the benefit it replaced for working-age adults in 2013. But this doesn’t mean they should be complacent in view of the high number of appeals that are successful.
The Government has lost court cases on two issues – mobility and mental health, and managing therapy, resulting in thousands of cases having to be re-examined.
Why hasn’t PIP bedded down by now? Are the assessors from Atos and Capita up to it? In the old days of DLA, a lot of the assessors were doctors, but now they are likely to be nurses or physiotherapists.
Does this matter because we know that PIP is not a medical test but a functioning test? Yes, it does matter because some quite irrational decisions are being made, such as people with muscular dystrophy (a degenerative disease) getting enhanced mobility at one assessment, and not at the next some years later.
From the outset PIP was controversial because the ‘walking distance’ had been cut down from 50 metres to just 20 metres. Therefore if someone could walk up to 50 metres, aided or unaided, they almost certainly wouldn’t qualify for enhanced mobility allowance; crucially, they could have qualified under DLA. And enhanced mobility qualifies a PIP claimant for a Motability car, often adapted, and leased in return for the benefit.
After pressure from me and others before PIP was rolled out, the Government made the PIP guidance mandatory, which meant that the assessors had to ask the claimant whether they could manage all the descriptors (such as walking up to 20 metres) ‘safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a timely manner’. This helped many claimants but not enough, particularly when the migration started of DLA recipients to PIP. Thousands and thousands of Motability cars had to be returned causing real misery to those disabled people who relied on them for getting to work, to hospital appointments or to visit family or friends, particularly in rural areas.
When the Government consulted on the regulation governing the mobility descriptor, over a thousand responses were received, nearly all of them opposed to the new distance of 20 metres. But the Government took no notice, saying they wanted the top rate of the mobility payment only to go to the most disabled people.
Then the appeals started.
First there is mandatory reconsideration by a DWP decision-maker, but this is too often just a rubber stamp of the original decision. After that, there is a Tribunal with a lawyer, a doctor and a disability specialist. At this point the DWP will get their own medical report on the claimant. Nearly two-thirds of appeals are now being won by claimants.
My advice to the DWP is to overhaul the descriptors and scoring in the light of experience, get the medical evidence at the initial rather than the end stage, make sure the assessors are much better trained, ensure that all PIP assessment centres are accessible and, finally, do away with the hostile atmosphere.
Baroness Thomas is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords.
James Taylor, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Scope said “Life costs more if you’re disabled, but the current PIP assessment does not accurately reflect these extra costs. The Government must now overhaul the PIP assessment so it accurately identifies these extra costs and works for disabled people, not against them."