I am trying to explain what we can do to help to improve the situation, because there are cases in which there are mistakes—1.5 million people are going through the PIP process. However, we know that the PIP process is far better than that for DLA because we are spending £3 billion more, and because of the success rate in getting those with the biggest challenges on to the highest rate of benefit—the proof is in the pudding.
This debate has arisen because a legal judgment has suggested that there are certain areas in which additional money should be spent. As I argued when we considered this during proceedings on an urgent question, if we are to spend money to make further improvements, that needs to be done in a co-ordinated manner, not an ad-hoc way.
Let me set out how this would work. We have lots of impressive charities with great policy teams, and they lobby on the basis of the experiences of their users. Individual MPs also raise concerns and suggestions for improvement through debates in the Chamber and Westminster Hall, and by tabling parliamentary questions, and the policy teams then work through them. There have already been significant changes, such as the much-needed and very welcome changes for terminally ill claimants, and the fact that waiting times rightly improved after a very difficult start when PIP was first rolled out. Rightly, this transfer of 1.5 million people from DLA to PIP is now being done at a speed that will not compromise waiting times as people go through the process. If this takes longer, it takes longer, and that means that we do not make the mistakes of the initial roll-out. The quality of the assessments is also improving month on month. There are still lots more areas in which issues will arise, but I spent a lot of time meeting charities, particularly smaller ones representing people with less common conditions. They would then spend time helping to train the assessors and rewriting the manual so that those conditions would be picked up in the assessment, so learning from such experiences forms part of the process.
The timings of when people should come back for reassessment have been looked at for the first time. Under the old DLA system, 70% of claimants were on a lifetime award. The problem with that was that one in three claimants’ conditions would change significantly within 12 months, meaning that they should have been on a different benefit. The vast majority of those claimants’ conditions were getting worse, not better, so they would have been entitled to a higher rate of benefit, but many people simply did not phone up and ask to present themselves for reassessment, so they missed out on the benefits they should have received.
Under the PIP assessment, if someone has entered on a lower rate of benefit and the assessor can see that their condition is likely to get worse, meaning that they will need to access a higher rate of benefit, an estimate is automatically made of when that might happen, which triggers a reassessment. That process means that those who are most in need will get money in the best possible time.