Ministers have been accused of “absurdity and obfuscation” after refusing to explain why they do not publish statistics showing the number of assessments carried out on disabled people applying for their new disability benefit.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes extensive data about the work capability assessment, which tests eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA).
But there are no equivalent statistics on assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), the extra-costs disability benefit that is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, made the admission in response to a written question from SNP MP Kirsten Oswald, who asked her how many such assessments the department had carried out in the last two years.
Mordaunt told her that DWP “does not record the information you have requested on… medical assessments for personal independence payment”.
But she failed to tell the MP that the outsourcing companies that carry out the assessments on DWP’s behalf, Capita and Atos, do collect this data and that they share it with DWP.
A Capita spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Wednesday) that he did not know why DWP would not publish the statistics.
He said: “We do share that information with them and it is their decision about how they use it.
“We have no control over that.”
Atos refused to answer questions from DNS about the statistics.
A spokeswoman for Mordaunt (pictured) had told DNS earlier: “The department does not publish data on the number of PIP assessments that have been completed.
“Both Capita and Atos record information on the number of assessments completed.”
She declined to say why DWP does not publish this data, and whether it thought it was an issue it should address.
And she made it clear that DWP would answer no further questions on the subject other than through freedom of information requests.
DWP publishes PIP statistics that show the overall number of claimants currently receiving PIP, and what percentage of them receive the various levels of award, how long it takes to deal with claims, and the number and proportion of claimants who appeal against their award.
But there are no figures showing the results of people’s initial PIP assessments, or even how many assessments are taking place every month.
There are also no DWP figures to show how many people have to rely on appeals to secure their PIP, or how many claimants attend face-to-face assessments – rather than DWP relying on “paper” assessments – or the proportion of face-to-face assessments taking place in people’s homes rather than in assessment centres.
In answer to another question from Oswald, Mordaunt told her that information on the number of home assessments completed – both for PIP and for ESA, by the contractor Maximus – was “not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost”.
The lack of detailed PIP data published by DWP means it is impossible to compare the performance of Atos and Capita, which between them carry out all face-to-face assessments.
Bob Ellard, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which spotted Mordaunt’s parliamentary answer, said: “More absurdity and obfuscation from the DWP.
“Firstly Mordaunt claims that the DWP don’t record statistics on the number of PIP assessments.
“Then [when asked why], they say they don’t publish it.
“If pushed further they in all likeliness would claim that ‘we had it but the dog ate it’.
“While the desperate attempts to hide information by the DWP are laughable, they are also very serious.
“People’s lives are being wrecked by the catastrophically bad PIP process.
“People who are subject to these degrading and inhuman PIP assessments are having their funding cut and Motability vehicles taken away on the basis of flawed and badly-performed PIP assessments.
“The PIP process is causing genuine harm and mental distress to tens of thousands of people all over the country and all the DWP can do is play silly games at trying to dodge publishing the most basic information that might begin to shed a light on just how bad things are.”
Welfare rights expert Nick Dilworth said he could see “absolutely no reason” why DWP could not publish the same kind of statistics on PIP – using data from Atos and Capita – that it does on the work capability assessment, the eligibility test for ESA.
He said: “There’s a reason they won’t publish the data: it’s either connected with them being unable to retrieve it via their chaotic regime or they have something to hide.
“My guess is it is a combination of both.”
He added: “It beggars belief that the DWP is continually promoting a digital era upon which the claimant is expected to fully engage, yet when it comes to transparency of data the department still seems stuck on outdated Excel spreadsheets which they battle to share.
“It’s hardly confidence-building when we are asked to have faith in a roll-out of the all-digital universal credit.”
The latest PIP statistics were published yesterday (14 December).
The new figures show that by the end of October, 526,500 former DLA claimants had had their reassessments completed, with 23 per cent of them receiving a cut to their benefit, and another quarter (25 per cent) losing entitlement completely.
Two-fifths (40 per cent) of those reassessed saw their awards increased in the move from DLA to PIP.
The figures also reveal that the new mandatory reconsideration stage that all those disagreeing with their PIP decision need to go through before they can appeal to a tribunal resulted in less than one in five decisions being altered by DWP.
Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s welfare rights adviser, said: “When compared to the success rate of PIP appeals [65 per cent of those who appealed to tribunals were successful, according to September 2016 figures], the figures for rejected PIP mandatory reconsiderations are a disgrace.
“PIP has now been in operation for over three years – surely enough time for the DWP to have put in place an assessment process that gets most decisions right first time.
“Instead, many disabled people are having their right to a disability benefit withheld due to poor face to face assessments and further evidence then supplied effectively ignored in favour of Atos and Capita medical reports.
“We would hope that the second independent review of PIP will report early in the new year and recommend root and branch changes to the assessment process.
“In the meantime, we would urge all disabled people who are rejected at the mandatory reconsideration stage to seek advice about making an appeal to an independent tribunal.”