Contracted-out Health Assessments

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

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.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

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.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

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?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

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.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

I know the Minister is determined to see improvements in how decisions are made. Will he kindly update the House on the progress on introducing a single assessment service, which will greatly help the situation?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

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.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

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?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I would be very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman, who has a huge amount of expertise in this area. Of those who have transferred from disability living allowance to PIP, there are 144,000 claimants who were not on enhanced mobility under DLA but who now are under PIP.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

If a 16-year-old’s DLA stops before PIP starts, should not the contractor be made liable for the maintenance of that child until the PIP settlement is determined?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

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.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

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?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

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.