What recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for (i) employment and support allowance and (ii) personal independence payments.
We are committed to ensuring that individuals receive high-quality assessments as part of the suite of evidence that decision makers can use to decide entitlement. Providers are closely monitored against a range of measures, including through independent audit, to improve the accuracy of the advice they provide to decision makers. We continually look to improve the efficiency of the assessment process by working closely with providers.
I listened intently to the Minister’s response, but my constituent has a series of complex and debilitating medical conditions and had been in receipt of disability benefit since 1994. At 60, when she had expected to retire, the Department for Work and Pensions declared her fit for work. Given that 74% of fit-for-work decisions were overturned on appeal in 2018-19, what confidence can the Minister give my constituent that there is equality and consistency of decisions on work capability assessments and, indeed, that the decision-making process is correct?
We strive to get the right decision first time, but we have to do much more to speed up the appeal process in the minority of cases where that does not happen. That is why we launched a series of pilots in the spring of mandatory reconsideration centres for both personal independent payment and work capability assessment, to ensure that we proactively gather the additional written and oral evidence that is often presented at the end of the independent appeal process, speeding up the process of ensuring that people get the right decision quickly.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. She works tirelessly in this area and is held in great respect by all Members on both sides of the House.
The integrated assessment is looking at how, with the claimant’s permission, we can share the evidence they have already gathered. We know that the majority of successful appeals contain additional written and oral evidence, often because the claimant had previously struggled to get that evidence. If the evidence is already in the system, we should be making it as easy as possible for the claimant to use it a second time.
Might I meet the Minister immediately after questions to give him a file of photographs of constituents who have failed to get any mobility component, even when they have foot bones coming through their flesh like in the photo I have here, so that we can have an urgent meeting to discuss how the procedure that we all wish to see is not currently operating?
The two benefits link through together. It is set at 16 to allow time for adaptation, and we continue to work with stakeholders to make sure the process is as straightforward as possible.
Figures recently published by the Department reveal that disabled people are being forced to wait up to 69 days for their mandatory reconsideration for PIP. This process is a barrier to accessing vital social security and, for many, is a deliberate delay to the appeal process. As 85% of MR decisions are upheld, almost three quarters of PIP assessments are overturned on appeal. Will the Minister lay out his plans to improve this failing process, or will he follow Labour’s lead and scrap this unfit-for-purpose assessment?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to improve mandatory reconsiderations, which is why we brought forward the pilots in the spring. The pilots are proactively gathering the additional written and oral evidence that was often presented at the end of the independent appeal process, which would sometimes take a year or even longer—that was not acceptable. We have been doing this over the summer, and we are now doing it for all PIP and work capability assessments. I attended a PIP mandatory reconsideration in Cardiff over the summer, and we are seeing some fantastic results because, rightly, we are speaking directly to claimants to ask them why they are challenging a decision. That will make a big difference, and stakeholders warmly welcome it.