Complaints about assessments for a key government disability benefit have rocketed by 880% in 12 months, according to official figures. It is a benefit paid to people with diseases like multiple sclerosis and those with other disabilities.
Yes, claimants’ complaints about assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that totalled 142 in 2015-16, rose to 1,391 in 2016-17.
Furthermore, if that was not shocking enough, it gets worse. The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has produced figures that show that the number of complaints about PIP assessments that were upheld. Over the same time, these rose from 67 to 545 – an increase of more than 713%. To me, that is a sad commentary on the lack of quality of the assessments and honesty of the assessors.
The facts were revealed by Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, in answer to a parliamentary question from Stephen Kinnock.
Benefitsandwork.com, the campaigning website, commented: “In our last newsletter we highlighted the case of a PIP claimant who had used a secret recording of his PIP assessment to win his appeal tribunal.
“Given this level of doubt about the trustworthiness of assessments, and given the difficulties the DWP place in the way of claimants wanting to openly record their medicals, covert recording seems more and more reasonable.”
Not fit for purpose
According to Disability News Service, Kinnock claimed the figures were “further evidence that the PIP system is not fit for purpose”, despite the assessment system being in place for more than four years. He said:
“While the scale of this is truly shocking, it is not in the least bit surprising, because week after week I hear from my constituents about how claimants are treated, how they are humiliated, belittled and denied basic human dignity.
“Government has been told by MPs, claimants and by disability experts that the system needs reviewing.
“Instead, they have carried on regardless with their ideological drive to remove the help which people so desperately need, so that they are able to manage the basic daily costs of living with a disability.”
A spokesman for the DWP is reported to have been unable to offer any explanation for the huge rise in complaints. He commented: “Complaints may be made for a variety of reasons and there is no evidence to suggest that there is dishonesty in the assessment system.”
Assessments appeals going online
PIP assessments appeals, and those about other benefits, are set to change. This is because HM Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has reached stage two of the roll out of online hearings.
It says that virtual hearings and online hearings using ‘rapid messaging’ will become a reality over the next 18 months. Apparently, it will be possible to appeal online and track the progress of the case by text, email or online.
Many are likely to welcome the chance not to have to attend a face-to-face hearing. However, paper hearings have a very much lower success rate than in-person hearings. Claimants may well seek physical hearings, if the same low success rate applies to ‘rapid messaging’ hearings.
HMCTS says in-person hearings will still be available “for those that need them”. My question is: Who will decide if a claimant is in ‘need’ of one? It should not be the DWP.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.