The government has again been accused of sending out misleading and confusing information about its disability living allowance (DLA) cuts and reforms, after a senior civil servant apparently contradicted the minister for disabled people.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) at a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) event had been anxious for clarity on eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), which will gradually replace working-age DLA from April this year.
But contradictory comments from Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, who spoke at the event, and one of her own senior civil servants, have only added to the confusion.
In December, McVey shocked disabled activists and DLA claimants by announcing that the key walking distance criteria for PIP had been reduced from 50 metres to 20 metres.
The following month, she bowed to intense campaigning pressure and agreed that PIP claimants should only be assessed on what they could do “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period”.
This should have meant that some people who could walk a little more than 20 metres could still claim the enhanced rate of PIP, and so still qualify for a Motability vehicle, and McVey confirmed this at last week’s PIP Delivery Update and Claimant Journey Teach-in.
But her comments were later apparently contradicted by a senior civil servant, when he agreed with a benefits expert from Disability Rights UK (DR UK) that current regulations only allow for this group of disabled people to receive the standard rate of PIP.
DR UK has now written to the minister, urging her to make the PIP position “legally clear”.
The letter, from DR UK chief executive Liz Sayce, says: “While we along with other DPOs welcome your clarification, the present wording of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 provides for those disabled people who cannot stand and move up to 50 metres safely, reliably, repeatedly or in a reasonable time period to be awarded only the standard (lowest) PIP mobility rate.
“This was acknowledged and confirmed to us by a senior DWP officer at the end of yesterday’s meeting.”
Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of development, said she feared the government intended that people who could walk a little more than 20 metres – even if they could not do it “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period” – would only receive the lower PIP mobility rate.
She said the situation facing disabled people preparing for the move to PIP was now “very unclear” and a “lawyer’s paradise” that would end up having to be tested in the courts.
She said she was “a little bit suspicious” about the government’s motivation in stirring up confusion, and added: “It feels like trying to implement a cut by the back door.”
She said: “The problem with something that is obscure is that it is very easy then for people to not get what they are entitled to.
“You can imagine how the likes of Atos [the controversial IT company which will be carrying out many of the PIP assessments]will interpret this descriptor.
“As usual, it will be left to people knowing their rights and having the energy to pursue an appeal to get what they ought to be entitled to.”
She added: “The [PIP] system was supposed to be simple, but it has turned out to be anything but.”
A DWP spokeswoman insisted that there was no confusion, and that “individuals who cannot stand and then move 20 metres will receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component”.
She said that if a claimant could “move distances between 20 metres and 50 metres but cannot do so safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period, they would also receive the enhanced rate”.
She added: “The minister made this clear, as have our officials.”
She said that McVey would be responding to DR UK’s letter in due course.
It is just the latest example of confusion and apparently misleading information from DWP over its DLA reforms.
Last month, Disability News Service reported that the government’s own telephone helpline advisers had been passing DLA claimants with lifetime or indefinite awards out-of-date information about when they would face reassessments.
And last week, DWP was accused by MPs of “manipulating” its own DLA statistics in a bid to justify scrapping the benefit.
7 March 2013