Personal Independence Payments — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:14 am on 15th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 11:14 am, 15th January 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that people facing delays in receiving personal independence payments do not endure financial hardship.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, personal independence payment is not an income replacement benefit; it contributes towards the extra costs associated with disability. Employment support allowance provides financial support for those who are ill or disabled and unable to work. We appreciate the difficulties associated with claims for PIP, and we are absolutely committed to reducing the backlog, and waiting times. Monthly clearances have quadrupled over the past year, and the backlog is falling. All successful new PIP claims are backdated.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he nevertheless confirm that, as recently as last month, some 670,000 people had registered for PIP but 300,000 people were still waiting for their claim to be processed, some of whom had been waiting for six months or longer? The system is not fit for purpose, yet the Government are still rolling out the scheme. Is it not right for them to stop the rollout until the system is working, to assess the negative impact on hundreds and thousands of handicapped disabled people, and to make sure that it is fit for purpose before they proceed?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I dispute those figures. The backlog stands at 107,000 at the moment, and 65,000 claims are being processed every month. Help is available in other areas—such as JSA, ESA, local authority help and NHS help—for those who are awaiting an assessment. The system is not failing; it is succeeding, and the backlog is being cleared.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

May I ask the Minister what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the recent report from the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government have looked closely at the all-party parliamentary group’s report on food banks and food poverty. It is a complex issue; there is no doubt about that. We have, of course, identified ways in which we can further publicise hardship payments, and we are doing that. We are also looking, with food retailers, at how we can ensure that food waste is minimised. The private sector has a role to play there.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, many claimants with autism lack insight into their own condition, and a family member or companion can help fill in the gaps during the PIP interview. But the National Autistic Society, of which I am a vice-president, tells me that a number of assessors are refusing to allow that. Will the Minister look into this? It is discrimination. Will he ensure that people who are autistic are not adversely affected by this attitude?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord does notable work in the area of autism, as is well known. The guidelines on the medical assessments related to PIP indicate that all these conditions should be taken account of. I have no evidence of this being a particular problem, but if the noble Lord would like to write to me about it, I will ensure that it is looked at.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, last June, Iain Duncan Smith told MPs that by the end of 2014 nobody would be waiting more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment. Can the Minister tell the House precisely when that target will be met? I do not believe that it was met by the end of 2014. As the target was only for when people would get an assessment, can he also tell the House how long people will have to wait to get a final decision, and their money? He seemed to be reassuring the House that people would get their money backdated when they eventually got it, but is it not the case that, even though PIP is backdated, passported benefits such as blue badges and carer’s allowance are not?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Baroness has asked a range of questions, and if I fail to answer all of them now, no doubt we can speak later. We are clearing the backlog and, as she will know, there has been significant progress. I shall repeat the figures: the backlog is coming down and we are clearing 65,000 claims a month. The Minister in another place, Mark Harper, will report on progress to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 28 January. The rate of clearances is improving month on month, and the number of outstanding cases in the system has been falling significantly.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

Last year, food banks served 500,000 people in six months. If people cannot even afford food, does that not show that there is acute financial hardship? Will the Government therefore try to reduce the number of people suffering sanctions and make sure that sanctions last for the minimum possible period?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord draws attention to the important role that food banks are fulfilling. Food banks have existed for well over a decade throughout western Europe, the USA and Canada. The reasons for using food banks are many and complex, and I pay tribute to what they are doing. As I say, to address some of the concerns we are publicising much more the possibility of early payment of hardship benefit and so on, and we are working with food retailers on food waste.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, we have heard from several Peers from the Labour Benches on this Question and we have not yet heard from a Liberal Democrat Member.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the loss of a Motability car can mean the loss of independence for a disabled person. Is my noble friend confident that the personal independence payment assessors are prompting claimants as to whether they can walk more than 20 metres safely to an acceptable standard repeatedly and in a reasonable time, which are the crucial criteria put into statute by this House? Unless these criteria are followed, thousands of disabled people will not be eligible for a Motability car and those being retested may lose their car and their independence.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friend raises important issues on the subject of Motability cars. It is worth noting that the Motability payment will continue while it is being reassessed. Those four criteria are looked at very closely. The legislation requires the assessors to consider whether a claimant can carry out each activity reliably. They will do that by means of observation, discussion and medical evidence—often just on the basis of medical evidence. I am satisfied that those criteria are being followed.