It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Graham Stuart on securing this important debate. I am pleased to congratulate the Minister, too, and welcome him to his new position.
As we have heard, this debate is important for many of our constituents who have applied for PIP and experienced long delays, anxiety and hardship. We heard about the recent case of Ms C and Mr W, where it was found that the delays were unlawful. It is regrettable that we have not yet had any expression of apology from the Government for those delays. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to offer that apology.
Many MPs know of cases in our constituencies where assessments and decisions have taken a long time. In my constituency, in at least one case the waiting time, end to end, was more than a year and the Department had to pay compensation. This afternoon we have all welcomed the improvements in the time taken for assessment and processing since the benefit was first introduced, including welcome improvements to speed up assessment for special terminal illness cases including cancer. We have also welcomed today’s figures from the Department that show further improvements; it is now 15 weeks, end to end, for new claims, and 11 weeks for reassessments. However, we must recognise that these have been achieved because of a significant increase in the number of healthcare professionals and fewer face-to-face assessments than had been envisaged. In fact, this represents a significant policy change by the Department. An early criticism of DLA by the coalition Government was that it lacked face-to-face assessments; those were to be one of the marks of a new approach under PIP.
We are pleased to see the improvements. However, as hon. Members have noted, Ministers now face a significant new challenge in embarking on the mass migration of the 1.5 million DLA cases to PIP, which is due to commence in October. The independent reviewer, Paul Gray, has said that this is the most challenging phase of the roll-out of the benefit. It is not just challenging for the Department and the assessment companies; it is causing uncertainty and anxiety among many DLA recipients. It is also causing uncertainty in respect of the public purse. The Office for Budget Responsibility, which has already revised spending forecasts upwards by £1 billion per annum between 2014 and 2015, said in the welfare trends report last week that structural changes to welfare benefits, such as migration from DLA to the new benefit, PIP, mean that any spending forecasts made are
“subject to even greater uncertainty”.
It is important, as we have heard, that this mass migration is not botched or rushed. That is the lesson from the earlier phases of the roll-out of this benefit, and from the roll-out of other benefits with intrinsic assessment processes, particularly the work capability assessment.
The Minister said on
“on a post code basis”.
That still causes a great deal of anxiety to claimants: they are not sure where they fit in that postcode lottery. It is not clear what it means for the overall profile of public spending on the benefit, and it is unclear when the end date of the migration will be. Will the Minister assure us that there will be sufficient capacity, both in the Department and among the independent assessors, and say what extra cost is being incurred to ensure that that capacity is sufficient? During the migration, how many face-to-face assessments does the Minister expect there to be, or what proportion of assessments would be done face to face? How many home visits will there be? What use is the Department making of the opportunity to share information with other assessment processes, as Paul Gray suggested?
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown rightly highlighted appeals. It has been assumed that 40%—a very high level—will go to appeal. I hope the Minister assures us that not just the Department, but the Courts and Tribunals Service, can handle the appeals that are expected. Can he say how many people are expected to lose benefit or receive a lower payment than under the disability living allowance? We know from Motability that 40% have already lost the higher-rate mobility award and therefore their Motability vehicles. It would be interesting to hear what further forecast the Minister makes.
Most worrying, as my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams said, is the backdrop of £12 billion of welfare cuts—“Newsnight” suggested yesterday that it could be as much as £15 billion—and what they might mean for the roll-out of the personal independence payment. In the House of Lords on