Capita: PIP Assessments

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22 June 2021.

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Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30, 22 June 2021

T5. Mr Catney asked the Minister for Communities for her assessment of the performance of Capita in carrying out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments. (AQT 1465/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

PIP was introduced, and there has been criticism of it. There have been two independent reviews of PIP. Marie Cavanagh carried out the most recent independent review, and I have agreed to implement nearly all of her recommendations. Other changes will be made going forward, and I have committed to trying to in-house those schemes and assessments as soon as I can. There is a recognition of the need to do that.

In working with medical practitioners on the issue of medical evidence, the Department of Health will be crucial. I have written to the Minister of Health, and there have been engagements with his Department to see how quickly we can do that. There is work that it needs to do. I am also working with those who are going through PIP. I am trying to set up a forum so that we can start a more proactive engagement and embed a rights-based approach at the heart of social security.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Minister. I am sure that, like me, you have been shocked by the number of successful appeals against PIP assessment decisions. They are particularly shocking in Lagan Valley. Why have you extended Capita's contract for another two years without going through the procurement process?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

There was an extension that the Chamber already knew about. Because of the impact of the pandemic last year, the existing contract was extended until July 2023. As I said, my intention is to in-house the process as quickly as possible. The clear answer is that we are not able to do that right away, because we need the support of the Department of Health.

The model that is being used in Scotland is one in which work is done with local health trusts to get the medical evidence at an early stage. I agree that the more we can front-load the system and get all the evidence presented to decision makers, the quicker we will get decisions that hopefully will not end up being appealed. The difficulty is that we are not getting that information. It is not coming in quickly enough, and we know the issues with GP surgeries, for example.

There have been proactive discussions with the Department of Health to try to make sure that it can do what it needs to do at its end so that we can move to an in-house model. I am trying to work with it as quickly as possible to do that; indeed, we are doing more than that. I have started to in-house the audit function, which will come back into the Department from August. We are also trying to in-house many of the assessments for which further medical evidence is not needed; indeed, we have already started to in-house 25% of them. We need to go much further, and working with Health will be critical over the next period.