That is fair. I sit on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions with other colleagues in the Chamber, and we hear such examples all the time.
I met the individual I am talking about and I could see clearly that he should have been getting the higher mobility component. An assessor who had asked the right questions and inquired after the person’s clear and obvious physical difficulties would have discovered their whole life was adapted to be independent, and a tribunal would absolutely have been avoided.
On a few occasions, medical services for PIP assessments have stated that tribunals are not as “restricted as we are”, when justifying the fact that tribunals are often successful for the claimant. Our understanding, however, is that they all follow the same legislation and the same medical handbook, so it can only be down to poor information gathering, poor questioning and poor decision making.
The Minister knows about what I will mention now, and I am sure that she shares my concern. If the DWP did not rubber-stamp mandatory reconsiderations, as it does, people in Cornwall would not be left in desperation, causing them to turn to organisations such as Benefit Resolutions, which charges clients £100 before it even looks at the cases. Then, from some of our most vulnerable people, it takes 15% of tribunal winnings in commission. It no longer attends tribunals, and it uses aggressive tactics with the DWP, other offices and its clients. Going by the results claimed on its website, Benefit Resolutions has taken almost £200,000 from the most vulnerable people in Cornwall over the past four years. There have been numerous complaints about its conduct throughout Cornwall, and the previous charity related to it, which was called Bufferzone, was closed down following an investigation by the Charity Commission.
I take the opportunity to remind people that the many free-to-use services include Citizens Advice, Counselling and Benefit Support, disAbility Cornwall and MPs’ offices. I have serious questions about the work and moral justification of companies such as Benefit Resolutions. I would always encourage people to make contact with the organisations that I have referred to. However, the truth remains that Benefit Resolutions and companies like it exist only as a result of incompetent and poor service provided by the system.
To conclude, I will read from a letter that has been submitted as a formal complaint to the DUP, I mean the DWP—probably not the DUP, though they might do a better job—which clearly sets out the case being made this afternoon:
“Last week I had a PIP assessment which lasted an hour and a half. They ask you really hard questions like do you think about committing suicide, and you have to go over again and again how your disability or illness has affected your life.
I understand they have to assess people and I am grateful there is somewhere that we can ask for help in this country, but the system is failing and more importantly it is hurting people…This was my third assessment in three years. It was gruelling and left me completely distraught afterwards. Having to face how much my life has changed and how little I can do now in comparison to before is very difficult. Watching the person who is sitting in on your assessment with you get visibly upset by the process is heart-breaking.
I have probably over 20 supporting letters from doctors, neurologists, colorectal surgeons and healthcare professionals. These letters state that I am not going to get better. That things are likely to deteriorate for me. Not fun reading. I hand them all over willingly.
A week later I got a phone call saying that I would have to be reassessed again. The healthcare professional had not gathered enough evidence. They were at my house for an hour and a half asking me question after question. I have support from all my doctors. How could they not have enough evidence? They could not answer that question. My father asked for management to call back the next day. They did not, and have not fulfilled that request. Instead I was booked in the next day for another assessment. Not just a few extra questions. I have to go through the whole thing again.”
Thank you, Sir Christopher.