The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has promised that no disabled people will have their benefits reduced because of its decision to review 1.6 million personal independence payment (PIP) claims.
The review follows last month’s decision by the new work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, that she would not appeal a court ruling that found new rules introduced last year by DWP were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory” and breached the UN disability convention.
The rules, which were rushed into law by the government last March, had meant that people who were unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress would receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for PIP, with many receiving a lower level of financial support as a result, or even no PIP at all.
The new rules were only introduced because an upper tribunal ruling had found that DWP was wrong to say that such PIP claimants should not be entitled to those points.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced this week that, following McVey’s decision not to appeal the court ruling, DWP would review every one of the 1.6 million PIP claims that have been made since the benefit was introduced in 2013 to see how many had been wrongly assessed and were now entitled to backdated PIP payments.
The review will include all those previously found ineligible for the benefit after being assessed by DWP and its contractors, Atos and Capita.
The cost of implementing the court judgement is estimated to be up to £3.7 billion over the next five years.
Newton announced the review on Monday in a written answer to a question from Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.
Newton said the following day – in response to an urgent question from shadow disability minister Marsha de Cordova – that no-one would see their benefits reduced as a result of the review.
But De Cordova told her that the “mess is one of the government’s own making” and was “a clear example to this government of the dangers of seeking to undermine both the independent judiciary and the House of Commons”.
Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesman, said that “the government’s attempt to prevent those with mental health issues receiving the higher mobility rate was, frankly, nothing but a shoddy attempt to save money” and “a disgrace”.
Newton promised that no-one would need to have another face-to-face assessment because of the review, which will be based on “existing information”, although DWP may need to contact some claimants and their doctors for further information.
She told MPs: “Nobody is going to be called in for a face-to-face assessment, and nobody is going to have money taken away from them.”
Most of the 1.6 million people who have tried to claim PIP since 2013 will not be awarded any extra support as a result of the review, but Newton said DWP had estimated that about 220,000 could see higher payments.
She said the department had “already started to recruit more people at DWP to help with the PIP review”, but she promised that the department would not have to make savings elsewhere in its budget to fund the work and the extra PIP payments.
A DWP spokeswoman said later that the review process would have “no effect” on the speed of the continuing roll-out of PIP, which has gradually been replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA) since 2013.
Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “We are pleased the government is not going to waste yet more taxpayers’ money on appealing the high court ruling and are taking responsibility to review all current PIP claims.
“This could have a significant, far-reaching impact on hundreds of thousands of people who experience psychological distress, for once in a positive rather than an adverse way.
“However, this is an enormous undertaking with as yet no clear timetable or information about how it will proceed and we are concerned that this means further anxiety and uncertainty for disabled people.
“At Inclusion London we have already had several phone calls from individuals who are affected who are currently missing out on essential benefits and all we can tell them is to wait.
“This whole debacle is symptomatic of a PIP assessment system that is dangerously dysfunctional.
“It is also a terrible indictment of how the system is failing disabled people that it took an individual woman living with mental distress to have to put herself through the ordeal of taking a court case against the secretary of state for work and pensions in order to over-turn unlawful and ‘blatantly discriminatory’ government policy.”
Philip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, said: “Many disabled people have lost out because of changeover from DLA to PIP, and we welcome the announcement that the government is going to review 1.6 million cases.
“This review highlights the ongoing and persistent failures of the assessment process, which is badly designed and implemented.
“Huge amounts of tax payers’ money is being wasted on poor quality assessments which deny disabled people benefits that they qualify for – that’s one of the reasons the success rate at appeal is so high.
“We urge all disabled people who are turned down for benefits they believe they should get to use the independent appeals process.”
Meanwhile, the Motability scheme – which is only open to recipients of the enhanced/upper mobility rate of DLA or PIP – has told Disability News Service that it has no way of knowing how many of its former customers lost their entitlement to a vehicle and had to return it because of the way the government applied the PIP rules on overwhelming psychological distress.
Motability said this was because it “has no role in determining who receives DLA/PIP, and we don’t receive any information on the details of someone’s assessment, their disability, or how many points they received in each area.
“Since the introduction of PIP, we have seen a changing mix of people joining the scheme, and in particular, an increase in customers with mental health conditions.
“We expect this to increase further following the recent announcement.”