Up to 2013, financial support to help people with the additional costs they face as a result of disabilities has been available in the form of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). However the Government decided to replace DLA with a new benefit – Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This will affect people of working age, but children and pensioners will still be able to claim DLA. The timetable for the phasing out DLA and introducing PIP was announced on 13 December 2012.

New claimants
A pilot for new claimants in the North East and North West started in April 2013. This was then rolled out across the country from June 2013, but again only for new claimants.

Existing DLA claimants
A previous draft timetable envisioned the formal reassessment of existing DLA claimants running from January 2014 to December 2016. However the December 2012 announcement put this back to October 2015 to May 2018. This slower timetable – which was called for by many campaigners and recommended by the Work and Pensions Select Committee – is very welcome.

Natural reassessment
However existing DLA claimants will be reassessed before October 2015 if they have a change in circumstances or a DLA reassessment scheduled during this period. The start of this so-called ‘natural reassessment’ process also had to be put back because the private companies contracted to carry out assessments – Atos and Capita – weren’t ready. This process started in EH post codes on 13 January 2014 (see answer to question 2 in this note to from DWP to my Select Committee).

How many people will be affected?
DWP expect 170,000 people to lose DLA and 160,000 to be awarded PIP at a lower level to DLA as part of the natural reassessment process. By the end of the full migration to PIP in 2018, 450,000 current DLA recipients will lose all support and 510,000 will receive PIP but at a lower level from now. In a speech on 20 June 2012 I highlighted a report published by the Learning Disability Alliance Scotland, which set out the financial implications of losing this support for vulnerable disabled people.

Initial concerns
The Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which I am a member, set out a number of detailed concerns in a report published on 19 February 2012. There was a debate on our report in the Commons antechamber Westminster Hall on 25 October 2012, during which I made a speech

I then made another more general speech in a Westminster Hall debate on the impact of welfare reform on 18 December 2012. There were 25 Labour MPs in attendance and only 3 from the Coalition parties, showing the strength of feeling on these issues amongst my colleagues.

Delays in implementation
When PIP launched nationwide in June 2013, it became clear that it was taking far too long for claimants to receive a decision on their applications. In some cases people applying in June and July 2013 still didn’t know whether they would be awarded PIP in January 2014. From the questions being asked by MPs from all parties, these issues were arising across the country and with both of the assessment contractors – Atos and Capita.

In answer to a parliamentary question in January 2014, the Minister responsible for PIP, Mike Penning, told me that when working properly, the time between a cases being passed to one of the contractors and coming back to DWP should be 30 days, and that these targets were built into the contracts.

However he also admitted that there are serious delays – he also acknowledged this in evidence given to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in December. The ‘defence’ he offered was that they were trying to make sure they got it right. For example all assessments were being internally audited by Atos and Capita before being passed back to the DWP.

I’ve even heard from constituents who have struggled simply to obtain the relevant application form for PIP. To do this claimants have to call up and give some of their details over the phone, but this is often beyond people with learning difficulties or mental health conditions. These people have to request and return a precursor application form, before they can obtain the main one. Although this initial phone call can be made by a claimant’s friend, relative or carer, this isn’t made clear enough. I urged the Minister then responsible for PIP, Mike Penning, to merge the two application forms and make them more freely available, but in his response of 1 July 2014 he said he would try to ensure applications could be made online by October 2015, and that they are currently sending DWP staff to help people fill out the form.

Why is this happening?
I would argue that the first applicants are being used as guinea pigs to test staff and systems which should have been properly trained and tested first. I wrote about this in the Huffington Post on 17 February 2014, and this report from Channel 4 News on 26 February shows how this is having a damaging impact on people’s lives.

My case was further reinforced when the National Audit Office published a highly critical report on 27 February 2014. I circulated a press release in response and raised the issue in a Commons debate on welfare reform, both on the same day.

In his speech Mike Penning admitted that the delays being experienced are unacceptable, and said it was an issue for both the contractors and DWP. He also acknowledged that too many people were being assessed face-to-face. However he argued that things had improved since the NAO gathered evidence for their report, and emphasised changes to the process for people with terminal illnesses.

I wrote about this again for Progress on 18 March 2014.

While it has been common knowledge that Capita were struggling, my office has learnt from a DWP source that Atos also started to experience problems in October 2013. Apparently a line was drawn under all applications up to mid-October, and two ‘recovery plans’ put in place:

  • First applications that had not had an assessment, due to unexplained delays or where they had simply fallen through the net, were given appointments under emergency slots.  Essentially unclogging the pile by draining some off.
  • Secondly new applications are being dealt with under improved timescales.

It’s also worthwhile highlighting the lack of assessment facilities on offer, especially compared to that promised in both Atos and Capita’s bids. This story on Benefits and Work covers this in some depth.

While I acknowledge that if claimants are eventually awarded PIP, payments will be backdated to the day their application went in, these delays still mean people are left without a significant amount of money for months while they wait.

Significantly where people with terminal illnesses generally had their DLA claims processed in 7 to 10 days, PIP claims for the same group have been taking several weeks, although the Minister claims they have now got to grips with these claims.

Some preliminary results given to the Select Committee showed that around 50% of applications are being granted. Ironically this is comparable with DLA, but these figures might be skewed as they included a disproportionate number of people with terminal illnesses, meaning that overall fewer ‘ordinary’ claims may be being granted.

Over the following pages I summarise the rest of my concerns over PIP, along with lots of background information and detail: