– in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 30th January 2018.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement on the process and timetable for the personal independence payment back payments.
As a result of our decision not to appeal the recent PIP judicial review judgment, we informed the House via a written statement and in a response to a parliamentary question that we will be carrying out an administrative exercise to identify claimants who may now be eligible for more support from PIP. The Secretary of State took the decision less than three weeks ago. As previously said, we will be working with Mind—experts in the field—and doing things as sympathetically and effectively as possible. While efficiency is important, I cannot stress enough that I want the appropriate scrutiny and complete accuracy to be applied to this exercise, so it will not be rushed.
This exercise will include screening the existing PIP caseload of some 1.6 million people to identify the group who may benefit, but the vast majority of claimants will not be affected. As the Secretary of State said last week, we currently estimate that up to 220,000 people will be affected by the judgment. For the group of people who may be affected, we will undertake a detailed review of their applications and awards. We will write to the individuals affected, and all payments will be back-dated to the effective date in each individual claim. There will be no—I repeat, no—face-to-face reassessments of awards. DWP case managers will be conducting a review of the existing information we hold, with a view to establishing whether claimants are entitled to more. If case managers need more information to make a decision, they will contact the claimant and/or their doctor.
I am sure you will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this is a complex exercise, and we need to undertake testing to ensure that we implement it safely. We therefore do not yet have an estimate of how long it will take. Obviously, we will keep the House updated on our progress in this exercise. Based on preliminary calculations, we estimate that the overall costs of implementing the judgment could be up to £3.7 billion by 2022-23. However, this number is highly likely to change as we work through all the impacted cases.
I thank Mr Speaker for granting this urgent question.
Following the written statement of
I am pleased that the Secretary of State and the Minister’s Department have finally seen sense. However, there are a number of questions that the Minister must answer. By what date will the Department have changed the PIP assessment guide, so that she can implement the judgment? How quickly thereafter will the Department be able to identify affected claimants? Is her Department prioritising the PIP claims it is re-examining? If so, will she publish the prioritisation criteria? By what date will all 1.6 million PIP claims have been reviewed? Will it be weeks; will it be months; or will it be years? Do the 1.6 million claims to be reviewed include those that scored zero points and were not awarded PIP? Will there be an appeals process for the PIP claimants not contacted by the Department who believe that they should receive back payments? Will the Department compensate claimants who have fallen into debt and accrued interest charges? After the equality assessment was published in February 2017, the estimated number to receive the higher rate of PIP went up to 164,000, and it is now 220,000. Will the Minister publish an updated assessment? What assessment has she made of the administrative costs to her Department of undertaking this complex exercise of a considerable scale?
This mess is one of the Government’s own making. It is a clear example to this Government of the dangers of seeking to undermine both the independent judiciary and the House of Commons.
It is absolutely not true to say that we are trying to undermine the independent judiciary, because we have accepted the findings of the appeal and are now going to painstakingly, carefully and safely implement the findings. It is incredibly important for our democracy that we have an independent judiciary, and we stand by that.
The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. First, for clarification, the information that was provided in response to the written parliamentary question was absolutely the same as that given at this Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State last week and that contained in the written statement.
Moving on to some of the hon. Lady’s more detailed questions, she mentioned the updating of the PIP assessment guide. She is absolutely right: that is the starting point to making sure that we properly and thoroughly implement the recommendations of the appeal. I am delighted to say that Paul Farmer of Mind has agreed to work very closely with us to get that right. I have spoken to Paul Gray, who has undertaken the independent reviews of PIP, and he has also offered his help. I recently met a broad range of our PIP stakeholders and invited them to share their expertise.
As I said in my previous response, it is incredibly important to me that we get this right. The exercise will be complex and, to carry it out accurately and safely, we want to ensure that stakeholders and experts are involved. As a result, I cannot set out a timetable at this stage, but I can reassure all hon. Members that we are approaching this with a great deal of vigour and will ensure we do it as soon as possible. We have already started to recruit more people at DWP to help with the PIP review.
We want to discuss the prioritisation of the review of PIP claimants very carefully with our stakeholders to ensure that the process is fair, transparent and open. We will be reviewing people who had zero points in their original claim. We are currently considering the best way to handle an appeals process.
Of course, I will update the House regularly. The Secretary of State said that she would do that from this very Dispatch Box last week. We have oral questions every six weeks, so there are plenty of opportunities for Members to ask us about the progress we are making in this very important work.
What impact, if any, will this effort have on the processing of new claims?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that important question. I want to reassure him that it is very important to me that the progress we have seen in making timely and good decisions on PIP continues. Our customers—our claimants—are very important to us in the DWP, and we want them to have a really good experience. I am determined to ensure that the progress we have made continues and that there are no delays for people applying for PIP.
I find it shameful and depressing that it took a court case to drag this Government back to the edge of decency, and I find the money wasted on legal proceedings abhorrent. However, since they are now at the edge of decency, may I urge the Government to take a few more steps? Will the Secretary of State apologise to the victims of the Government’s actions? I appreciate that she is new in her post, but this is important. Will she also apologise to the families of those who have taken their own lives as a result of the Government’s benefits policy? Will she confirm that she is now undertaking to restore some semblance of dignity to this policy area by reviewing all PIP cases where benefits have been stopped or reduced, rather than just those involving mental health? Will she undertake to come back to the Chamber in the very near future with a plan to start repairing some of the damage that has been done? One month should be sufficient time to get that rolling.
It is with deep regret that I hear the hon. Lady making such appalling and unsubstantiated claims about people committing suicide as a result of this. All of us in this House have a duty to be very mindful of the language and evidence we use to make such assertions. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in society, and it is shameful when Members deliberately misuse data.
I am pleased to have this opportunity—[Interruption.] Listen, the data to which the hon. Lady is referring is often misquoted, and it comes from the adult psychiatric morbidity survey. The deputy chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has said that the adult psychiatric morbidity survey does not show any causal link between being on benefits and suicidal thoughts or behaviour. The survey findings indicate certain associations, but they do not indicate causality. The hon. Lady might not want to take my word for it, but is she seriously doubting the word of the deputy chief medical officer?
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State has decided to accept this ruling from the Court and that the Minister has today confirmed that there will be no face-to-face reassessments—that is absolutely right. I am also greatly encouraged that the Minister will be working with Mind, Paul Gray and other knowledgeable people to rectify the situation. Might she continue to work with them on an ongoing basis to see what other improvements can be made to PIP? The Work and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, is about to publish its recommendations. I believe that a fundamental overhaul of the PIP process is required, but a number of very small things could be done, such as introducing videoed assessments, that would make a huge difference to how claimants feel about the process.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for the invaluable work that she and other members of the Work and Pensions Committee do. I look forward to receiving the Committee’s recommendations and will give them careful consideration.
I want to reassure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that I believe in continuous improvement. I am very grateful for the constructive working relationship that I have with many disability rights organisations and charities that support disabled people, and for the time they give to my PIP stakeholder group. We are about to set up panels of claimants of both employment and support allowance and PIP so that we further engage with claimants themselves. Of course, we undertake proper independent customer satisfaction surveys to ensure that we take every opportunity to improve the claimant experience.
The Minister has told the House that all 1.6 million existing claimants will have their cases reviewed. I am grateful to her for adding that those who had zero points, and therefore did not get PIP, will also be included in the review. Will she confirm that the 180,000 people who used to be on disability living allowance and are no longer receiving benefit will be included? In total, on top of the 1.6 million, how many cases does she expect to review?
As all Members will know, people have been going through a managed process of transferring from disability living allowance to PIP. We will be looking at people who have gone through the PIP assessment process. Just over half of people on disability living allowance have gone through the managed process to PIP. There are still people on DLA who are yet to go through the process, but we are taking on board all the findings of the appeal and improving the process to ensure that we make the right decision the first time. That is really important to us and to claimants.
This is a significant and important announcement. Will the Minister give a clear commitment on continuing to work with stakeholders and charities not only to learn the lessons, but to help them to communicate with all their members so that they can be kept up to date with that work?
When my hon. Friend held my position, he did a really good job of engaging with stakeholders, and I am building on that legacy. It is very important that we take on board their concerns and communicate with them frequently so that they can provide reassurance and information to their beneficiaries.
The system is in fundamental need of review. My constituent Martin Wright suffered a terrible life-changing accident at work several years ago. Despite that, he has been reassessed three times in three years and has now had his payments reduced. We will take Martin’s case to appeal, and I have to tell the Minister that every single case from my constituency office that we have taken to appeal in the past year has been overturned. Does that not show that this system is broken, inhumane at times, and in urgent need of fundamental change?
Of course I do not like to hear of individual cases when things have not worked out as we would like them to. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to meet me to discuss his constituent’s case, I would be very happy to do so. I hold meetings twice a month so that Members or their caseworkers can come along and meet my officials to review such cases.
It is worth setting all we are doing in context. We have made 2.9 million—I repeat, 2.9 million—PIP assessments, and 8% of those go to appeal, of which 4% are upheld, so the vast majority of people are getting the benefits to which they are richly entitled. If we look at the claimant work we do—the customer satisfaction surveys—we find that most people are satisfied with the process. Of course, until we have no appeals and 100% satisfaction rates, we will constantly be seeking to improve the situation, but the facts do speak for themselves.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her response to the urgent question and ask her whether she will be kind enough to check my understanding of the figures? I think she said that there are 1.6 million PIP claimants and that she expected just over 200,000 to have their assessments changed—improved. It therefore seems to me that the 1.4 million people who will not see a change in their benefit will have had their expectations raised by this announcement. How will the Minister manage those expectations?
The Secretary of State has made it clear at the Dispatch Box that the figure is about 220,000 people. Some of the things that some Members of this place have said in the media are very disappointing, having both scared people and raised false hope.
May I make one suggestion to the Minister about how she could do the decent and humane thing? She should passport all those affected by the contaminated blood scandal—having contracted HIV and hepatitis C—who were previously in receipt of DLA through to PIP at the higher rate. It should be a blanket passport.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is really important that we remember what PIP is. It is a very modern, dynamic benefit, and it treats with parity of esteem physical and mental health and disabilities. No two people are the same and no two people’s needs are the same, so it is a person-centred benefit. It is really important that we remember that.
I welcome the Government’s decision to accept the Court’s judgment and the Minister’s careful work to improve PIP assessments, including by looking at the recording of assessments, which she and I have talked about. Irrespective of whether someone’s health condition is mental or physical, does my hon. Friend agree that what matters is that they get the help that they need to meet the extra costs of living and to live the fullest possible lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. She is absolutely right to focus on parity of esteem—the Government have legislated for that—between people with mental and physical health conditions. That is really important.
Let us just look at the facts about how many people with mental health conditions are being positively supported by PIP. The latest figures from
The mental health charity Mind found in its survey last year that 22% of the people it surveyed did not actually appeal against a PIP refusal because of their condition—they did not feel able to do so. I assume from what the Minister is saying that those people will be part of the reassessment, but what advice should Members of Parliament give those individuals now, because some will want to put in new applications? What support will they be given, because some of them have been left in a very difficult position, through no fault of their own, due to their mental illness?
We will be working with Mind—I agree that it is an excellent charity—and other organisations, and they will help us to shape this process so that it is conducted in a sympathetic and appropriate way to make sure that we reach all people who are entitled to PIP.
I thank the Minister for her statement and for the way in which the Department is going about this reassessment. Will she assure the House that, as the Department undertakes this major operation, it will still be able to deliver assessments for people moving on to PIP for the first time and that this will not affect their claims in any way?
My hon. Friend asks a really good question because, as I have demonstrated with the numbers I have shared with the House, more people are benefiting from PIP than from DLA, its predecessor benefit. I do not want people to miss out on the opportunity that PIP affords them. We are absolutely determined to make sure that there will be no reduction in the quality of service that we provide for new applicants or, indeed, people transferring from DLA to PIP.
Given that the Court’s ruling has taken effect, what interim guidance has the Department provided to assessors pending revisions to the assessment guide?
We are working through every aspect of undertaking this complex and challenging task. At the heart of everything we will be doing is working very closely with Mind and our other key stakeholders to get this right. The process must be done accurately and it must be done safely.
May I congratulate the Minister on the tone in which she has conducted these proceedings? It has been absolutely spot-on, and it really does refute some of the more accusatory comments from Opposition Members. Will she set out by how much spending on the main disability benefits has risen since 2010?
I very much appreciate my hon. Friend’s question. We have a proud track record as Conservatives. In every year since 2010, the amount that we provide to people with health conditions and disabilities has risen, and it will continue to do so in every year of this Parliament. The figure is well in excess of £50 billion each year.
I receive many emails every week, as I am sure we all do, from constituents who are distraught about their PIP application being rejected. The whole process has been cruel beyond belief, and we now know it has all been for naught. Will the Minister reassure my constituents who have faced shocking suffering that they will be considered as part of this review, and what advice should I give them to ensure that that happens?
I simply rebut what the hon. Lady says about anybody in the DWP treating people cruelly. I assure her that we want to make sure that people claiming our benefits are treated with respect and dignity, and that the process is fair. Independent evaluations show that the majority of claimants rate their experience as good.
To answer the hon. Lady’s question about the advice that she could give her constituents, they will be contacted by DWP if we feel that they are entitled to more money. Nobody is going to be called in for a face-to-face assessment, and nobody is going to have money taken away from them.
We have all met constituents in our surgeries who have concerns about PIP, so I really welcome today’s announcement, which will help people in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm what more her Department will continue to do, in the light of this announcement, to move forward the transformative benefits of getting disabled people back into work, which is one of the greatest levers for improving mental health for disabled people?
I thank my hon. Friend for her insight, because she is absolutely right that good work is good for people. A core part of our Work and Health programme is that we do everything we can to test and learn so that we enable more people to play their full part in society, including at work.
Portglenone medical centre in my constituency is one of the largest rural practices in Northern Ireland. It deals not only with vulnerable people, but with some of the most marginalised in the country, because of their rurality. The practice has written to me to say not only that the system is deeply “flawed”, but that it is already
“seeing multiple patients having to appeal inappropriate decisions”.
I know that the Minister will not want to hear those words, which distress us all. Given that there is no Executive in Northern Ireland, will the Minister meet me and all party colleagues represented in the House to discuss how Northern Ireland can benefit from the decisions that she takes as a result of today’s announcement?
Of course I would delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I hold regular sessions in Parliament—teach-ins on PIP and ESA, which any Member of Parliament and their caseworkers may attend, bringing their casework along, so that we can have a really good dialogue. However, if the hon. Gentleman would like to have a specific meeting about the situation in Northern Ireland and what we can do to support him in doing his very important job of representing his constituents, I would be delighted to do so.
Would it be helpful to create a specific phone number that affected claimants or their advisers could contact to suggest that they think they ought to have a change of decision, rather than requiring them to wait while the Department searches through 1.6 million records to try and find them?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question but, no, I think that by far the best thing is to say that we will contact the people affected. I am concerned that if people started doing such a thing, it would be a distraction and could use up the resources that I want to put into ensuring that we get this sorted as soon as possible.
When the Government announced the changes to the regulations in 2017, their own assessment was that approximately 164,000 claimants would be directly affected. Will the Minister commit to recommending that priority is given to those people who were directly affected and lost money, and to addressing the problems with some urgency?
I am having a conversation about prioritisation with Mind and stakeholders. It is really important that we work with experts and stakeholders to help us to decide the prioritisation. I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady and everyone in the House that this is of the utmost importance and that we are acting at pace to get it sorted as soon as possible.
Supporting the vulnerable and people with disabilities and health conditions should always be the Government’s top priority. Will the Minister confirm that personal independence payments are not subject to the benefits cap or means-testing, and that payments will continue to rise with inflation and to be untaxed?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Keeping people safe and taking care of the most vulnerable people in society are the top priorities for this Government, and I know that my hon. Friend does a huge amount of work in her constituency to support the most vulnerable members of her community. I can absolutely provide that assurance—PIP is a non means-tested benefit that is not subject to the benefits cap. It plays a vital role in enabling disabled people to play as full a part in society as they can, which is something I know that my hon. Friend and I both want.
It is nothing short of a national disgrace that Ministers persisted with this utterly flawed and unfair system of PIP assessments despite all the warnings. It was only when the High Court ruled that Ministers’ changes to PIP were “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions and were a breach of their human rights—the opposite of parity of esteem in action—that the Government announced that they would review the 1.6 million cases. Can the Minister assure the House that PIP assessments will take into account the full range of symptoms and factors affecting mental health, especially those symptoms that we cannot see that present differently on different days, including due to bipolar disorder, depression and phobias?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we are utterly committed to making sure that mental health and how it affects people are properly and fairly treated throughout the PIP assessment process, but I do think we should look at the number of people who are now receiving help, and the number of people with mental health problems who are now receiving financial support through PIP who were not under DLA. Some 200,000 people now receive the highest level of support, and more than 100,000 people receive the highest level of mobility support. Clearly PIP is not broken, because it is supporting many more people than DLA did.
My hon. Friend set out the potential costs of the review. Will she put that in the context of her Department’s overall spending to support people with disabilities and health conditions? Will she reaffirm that spending in this area increased in the last Parliament and will continue to go up during this Parliament?
Every single year, the funding that we put into supporting people with health conditions and disability has grown, and that sum will continue to grow. At the moment the budget is about £51 billion, and we estimate—it will only be an estimate until we have undertaken careful review, and it is probably a worst-case scenario—that this process will cost £3.7 billion. My hon. Friend is probably much better at calculating percentages than I am.
By no means an isolated case in my constituency, one of my constituents in Drumnadrochit, despite being clinically assessed with mental health issues, was marked as a fail for a mandatory assessment. That has exacerbated the conditions that she suffers from, and also the pain that she has to endure daily. How will the Minister ensure that my constituent gets the urgent help and review that she needs and deserves?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that constituency case and I would be delighted to meet him to review it.
I would sound a word of caution. I have met many people who would be described as having severe mental health problems, who play a really full part in their community and also work. We have put a lot of money into supporting innovative programmes that enable people with mental health problems to manage those conditions, so that they can stay in work. I have met people who have told me that the work we are doing has literally saved their lives. I have met consultants who have told me that they would never have believed that people with such severe mental health conditions could be so well supported to play their full part in society, including work. Each person is unique and each person’s needs must be assessed individually.
As part of this review, will the Government be looking at people who currently have one component of PIP, to see whether they might be entitled to both components, and will they be looking at people on the lower rate of PIP, to see whether they might be entitled to the higher rate?
As I say, we will be ensuring that we fully implement the findings of the appeal, and we will be doing that by working very carefully with our stakeholders to make sure that we get this right. We will be reviewing all 1.6 million PIP claimants.
l thank the Labour party for securing an urgent question on this important issue. We know that the Government’s attempt to prevent those with mental health issues receiving the higher mobility rate was, frankly, nothing but a shoddy attempt to save money. That was a disgrace. They then dragged it out through the courts for many, many months and I think that was absolutely disgraceful behaviour. I know that the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is new in her post, but is she proud of what her Government did over this particular PIP episode?
It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to recognise the contribution of Lord Freud, a fellow Liberal Democrat, who held the ministerial position that developed PIP when he was in the coalition Government; and it is disappointing that he is not celebrating the shared achievement of PIP and how it is enabling many more people to be supported. I do think it is really important that the hon. Gentleman listens carefully to what I have said—that we are going ahead with vigour to implement the full findings of this review.
The Minister has been celebrating the Government’s desire to ensure that all PIP claimants live as full a life as possible. Can she confirm that cases, like those in my constituency, where people have had their vehicles taken from them will be reviewed as part of this process, and that mobility vehicles will be returned where appropriate?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and suggest that she comes to talk to me with those constituency cases so that we can fully understand. As people are migrating across benefits, such as when people are on ESA, we have a really well worked out programme with Motability so that people do not have to lose their cars. Of course, the devil is always in the detail, and without the details of her constituency case I cannot properly respond. I invite her to come and discuss it with me.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a psychologist, and when I look at the PIP criteria it appears to me that they do not seem to lend themselves to a full assessment of mental health issues. It is also a concern that collateral medical information is not routinely sought from applicants. Will the Minister come to the all-party parliamentary group on disability, which I chair, to consider these issues pragmatically and to look at how people are trying to navigate the system, to ensure that the most vulnerable do not fall through the gaps?
I can assure the hon. Lady that PIP was co-designed with experts in the field. Where appropriate, medical information is of course used, but it is important to remember that the PIP assessment is a functional assessment; it is about the impact of someone’s mental or physical health on them as an individual, and no two people are the same. Of course, medical information is important, but the impact of listening to the individual, their carers and the people who support them is just as important. As for her kind invitation to the APPG, I would be delighted to come along and meet her.
I welcome the fact that the Department will be working with Mind and that mental health has been mentioned so often today, but I have not heard enough about real, solid and tangible change that will support people with mental health conditions. Will the Minister commit to looking again at the assessment process to ensure that people with mental health conditions are assessed by a mental health clinician in the first instance?
The Government are deeply committed to supporting people with mental health issues. By 2020, we will be spending more than £1 billion a year, which includes a wide range of investment in services and in recruiting and training more people. I assure the hon. Lady that the people carrying out the PIP assessments, just like the people carrying out the work capability assessments, receive thorough training. We are always working with stakeholders to see what more we can do to improve the claimant and our customers’ experience.
I recognise that the Minister has great compassion in her role, and the manner in which she has spoken today confirms that, but I was very disappointed by her response when Motability vehicles were mentioned. The Minister must take a much more robust direction in this regard. I have constituents who have definitely been refused PIP on account of their mental health condition and have therefore had a letter sent to them notifying them that the Motability car must be returned by a deadline. My constituents cannot comprehend what is going on. So, we would like a much more robust approach to Motability cars and a stay on their removal until PIP assessments have been properly completed.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and her question. I would be delighted to meet her to consider that specific case to see what more I can do to work with Motability to ensure that people who need their cars get to keep them.
A constituent of mine, a 63-year-old man, was deemed by his doctor to be unfit for work, having suffered from coronary artery disease, and was placed on the higher rate of PIP. He subsequently received a review form, which he duly completed within the timescales and resubmitted. He was then informed by the DWP that the form had not been received, and that as a result he would forfeit his benefits and be liable to pay back everything he had received up until that date. That clearly caused him unacceptable mental anguish, on top of his bad physical condition. It was only after the intervention of my caseworker that that review form was identified, found and his payments were reinstated. What will the Government do to deal with the clear anguish that that has caused my constituent as part of a wider symptomatic issue? Will they will reinstate a compensation scheme to ensure that these people are adequately compensated, particularly when they have fallen into severe debt?
The hon. Gentleman exemplifies the important role of a Member of Parliament in supporting constituents through their casework. He might like to meet me about that case. It is by reviewing individual cases that we find out how we can make improvements. I reassure all Members that if a decision is overturned and the Department has made a mistake, we back pay people to the date from which they are eligible for the benefit.
We all want—at least I hope we all want—to make sure that all those in need get what they need to live, not just to exist. To that end, will the Minister confirm that the £3.7 billion that this is expected to cost will be an additional allocation from the Treasury and will not be found from existing DWP budgets?
The figure of £3.7 billion is an estimate of what this will cost. As we work through sorting out the problem, we will have a much better idea of the numbers, but I can absolutely assure him that we will not make savings in our Department to fund it.