Personal Independence Payment - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat 3:29 pm, 10th October 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to improve Personal Independence Payment assessments in the light of the number of successful appeals.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Of the 3.5 million decisions made since the personal independence payment was introduced, 9% of all decisions have been appealed and 4% of all decisions have been successfully appealed. We are committed to making further improvements to the quality of decision-making and have now deployed 150 presenting officers across PIP and ESA to provide valuable insight into why decisions are overturned at tribunal.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that reply. Maybe that takes us slightly further on, but she will know that the chairman of Scope, who is appealing his own PIP decision, has drawn our attention to the 71% of successful, but expensive, PIP appeals in the first three months of this year. The figure goes up and up. This tallies with the experience of Muscular Dystrophy UK, which reports a huge increase in PIP cases, with many claimants left in real financial hardship, such are the delays in the system. What practical, concrete steps is the department taking to improve the quality of assessments right now?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am pleased to say to the noble Baroness that appeals actually reduced by 9% in the last quarter, April to June of this year. We are doing a great deal to try to ensure that we get the decision right the first time. To that end, we have changed the guidance to ensure that those on the highest awards, with needs that will not change or will deteriorate, get an ongoing award; we have made changes to the PIP assessment guide; we have restructured our decision letters to make them easier to understand; we have introduced mental health champions to support assessors who undergo specific training to emphasise the functional effects of mental health conditions; we have launched a series of videos outlining the claim process in a simple and clear way; and, to help to improve trust in the assessment process, we are considering options to video record PIP assessments. We are designing a live-testing pilot, due to begin later this year. I assure all noble Lords that my honourable friend in another place, the Minister for Disability, is constantly looking at ways to improve.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, will all those individuals who were assessed for PIP in the months leading up to the judicial interference be reassessed? Will they be informed that they are going to be reassessed, and will they be informed of the outcome?

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, what the Minister says is all very well but she will be aware of the publicity recently given by the chairman of Scope to inconsistencies that he experienced in his assessment for PIP, with different weightings being given to characteristics that had not changed from one assessment to another. What reassurance about the fairness of the system can the Minister give to people like the chairman of Scope, for whom this is an all too common experience?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think it is important not to conflate the appeals figures with assessment or decision-making quality. Having said that, we are constantly looking at how we assess the quality of those decisions. On the appeals themselves, oral evidence, which is critical in determining appeal outcomes at tribunal, often greatly assists in drawing out the right evidence more effectively, as the Social Security Advisory Committee has said. New written evidence provided at the hearing that has not previously been seen by decision-makers can make the difference. Also, tribunals sometimes draw a different conclusion based on the same evidence. However, it is important to add that we are talking about nine different possible awards, and each and every one of those is capable of mandatory appeal. It is not so straightforward when people have such individual and complex needs.

Photo of Baroness Couttie Baroness Couttie Conservative

My Lords, the Government are clearly putting forward a number of amendments to try to improve the process and payment of PIP. What are they actually doing to make improvements for mental health patients, who might find the system quite complicated and difficult?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, there has been a very strong focus, particularly in recent months, on mental health conditions. PIP has a much better understanding of non-physical conditions such as mental health conditions than existed under DLA. Indeed, overall, 65% of PIP recipients whose main disabling condition is a mental health one are getting the enhanced rate of the daily living component, compared to only 22% of mental health recipients under DLA; and 33% of PIP recipients whose main disabling condition is a mental health one are getting the enhanced rate of the mobility component, compared to only 10% of mental health recipients receiving the higher rate of the DLA mobility component. PIP is showing a greater and more generous focus regarding delivery for those with mental health conditions.

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

My Lords, the Minister seems to think that tribunal decision rates do not reflect quality. If 71% of cases are overturned at tribunal—for example, the figure for JSA is only 36%—something has gone badly wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, mentioned the case of the chairman of Scope, who has Parkinson’s and incurable prostate cancer. At two subsequent assessments he was awarded 11 points; you need eight to get PIP. At last March’s assessment, he got only two. His Parkinson’s is progressive and now very severe, and his prostate cancer is incurable. He has described the experience of navigating this as Kafkaesque, complex and unprofessional. I think any noble Lord who has ever spoken to a single person who has navigated this will recognise that. What are the Government going to do about this?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I absolutely hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is saying. But I think it is really important to stress that we genuinely believe the PIP system is working, and it is a vast improvement on the DLA system. It is not perfect and we are constantly looking to improve it, but it is only right that support is targeted at those disabled people who require the most assistance to lead independent lives, and personal independence payment will achieve that. But key to the benefit is a more objective assessment which allows us accurately and consistently to assess individual needs. We are focusing more on training the assessors and working with champions to support them, to improve the outcomes right from the start.