PIP Appeals: Backlog

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 8th March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP 3:15 pm, 8th March 2021

T1. Mr Easton asked the Minister for Communities, given that more than 6,039 people are waiting for personal independence payment (PIP) appeals, how she plans to deal with that unacceptable backlog. (AQT 1081/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

There has been a huge issue. The Member will understand that the public health pandemic caused the suspension of face-to-face assessments. We have been working with the Appeals Service to look at all the appeals and issues.

You are right: there is backlog at the moment. We are looking at telephone interviews and virtual interviews through Zoom. It is important to recognise that the nature and type of appeal need to suit the appellant. That is particularly true of PIP appeals, which look at a person's physical disability or their mental health and well-being. In a satisfaction survey on the issue over 60% of appellants said that they wanted a face-to-face assessment and appeal. The difficulty at the moment is that we still have the COVID regulations, which do not allow for that.

The Appeals Service has suspended face-to-face meetings, and that has been extended to the first week in April to take into account the current health regulations. We are keeping it under review and looking at more online options such as Zoom interviews and telephone appeals. If people are looking for face-to-face contact, we will have to look at how we can accommodate that once the restrictions begin to ease. We will work with the Appeals Service to see if we can create a timeline as to how quickly we can reduce that waiting list as much as possible. I cannot give you all the answers until we know more about the regulations, which are being reviewed on 16 March, but I am hopeful that I can supply more information to the Committee and the Chamber in the time ahead.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. Can the Minister give me a guarantee that, when those people finally get their appeals — they could have been waiting for well over a year — the payments that are awarded to them will be backdated from the date that they applied or from the date that they had their PIP taken off them?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

The awards are looked at in terms of backdating from the date of appeal, yes. That is one of the issues that are considered. Our focus now is to make sure that we get appeals looked at as soon as possible, and we will work through that with the Appeals Service and the independent advice sector, which is supporting many of the individuals.