New government research shows that hundreds of thousands more claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) would have taken further steps to challenge the results of their claims if the system had been less stressful and more accessible.
The research, carried out for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by Ipsos MORI, has cast fresh doubt on government claims that only a small proportion of disabled people are unhappy with the decisions made on their PIP claims.
DWP has repeatedly claimed that only about nine per cent of PIP decisions have been appealed since it was launched in April 2013, and that as few as four per cent of all PIP decisions have been overturned at appeal.
They have used this to suggest that this means that the overwhelming majority of claimants are happy with the PIP assessment system.
But the new research, based on more than 1,200 interviews, explains why many disabled people who applied for PIP decided not to appeal against an award, even if their claim was rejected completely or was lower than they believed they needed.
The research found that, of those PIP claimants who decided not to request a mandatory reconsideration (MR) – the internal review stage of the process, after a decision on a PIP claim has been made – 10 per cent took that decision because they thought it would be too stressful, four per cent did not know how to seek an MR, and seven per cent said they did not know enough about MR to proceed*.
Only three-fifths of those surveyed said they had not sought an MR because they were happy with the award they were given.
But the research also questioned those claimants who decided not to appeal to an independent tribunal after seeking an MR and being told it had produced no change to their award.
The researchers found that the most popular reason not to appeal was that the process would be too stressful (37 per cent), while a fifth of such claimants (20 per cent) said they did not expect the award to change, and a fifth (20 per cent) said they were too unwell to appeal*.
Others said they did not want to prolong the process (13 per cent), that they did not know enough about appeals (six per cent), had left it too late (six per cent), or did not know how to appeal (five per cent).
In all, just eight per cent of those who decided not to appeal after a no-change MR said this was because they were happy with the award they were given.
Between the introduction of PIP in April 2013 and April 2018, more than 3.4 million claims for PIP were dealt with and completed, the report says, with about 1.6 million rejected.
By the end of April 2018, there had been 781,000 requests for an MR, with about four-fifths of those resulting in no change to the PIP award.
But by March 2018, only 300,000 PIP appeals had been lodged and 211,000 PIP had been decided at a tribunal hearing, with 65 per cent decided in favour of the claimant.
Previous research by Disability News Service has already questioned DWP’s suggestion that the vast majority of PIP decisions were accurate because just four per cent of PIP decisions had been overturned on appeal.
That research showed instead that the proportion of PIP decisions overturned, either at MR or tribunal, rises dramatically if the calculation only considers PIP claims that have been rejected.
It found that, of all the PIP claims rejected by DWP decision-makers in the year to June 2017, 13 per cent were eventually overturned because the decisions were found to have been wrong, either through an MR or at a tribunal**.
That research suggested that the true proportion of incorrect decisions was likely to be even higher, because many rejected PIP claimants had not challenged the rejection of their claims.
DWP’s new research confirms that suggestion.
Together, the two sets of figures provide fresh evidence of deep-rooted concerns about the PIP assessment process, and about the accuracy and fairness of the face-to-face assessments carried out by government contractors Atos and Capita.
Earlier this year, DWP told the Metro newspaper: “A vast majority of people are happy with their assessments, and only a very small proportion of all ESA [employment and support allowance] and PIP decisions are overturned at appeal – just 4 per cent for PIP and 5 per cent for ESA.”
But the new figures and the previous DNS research show that hundreds of thousands more PIP claimants than DWP previously suggested were not happy with the award they received and would have liked to seek an MR, and that tens or possibly hundreds of thousands more would have appealed if the process had been less stressful and more accessible.
The new figures follow years of mounting anger about the way PIP has been designed and run, since it was launched in 2013 as a replacement for working-age disability living allowance.
They also follow a lengthy DNS investigation which found claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors – from both Atos and Capita – with hundreds of claimants saying that their PIP assessment reports contained clear lies.
A DWP spokeswoman declined to say if the department agreed that the new figures and previous DNS research showed that hundreds of thousands more PIP claimants than DWP previously suggested were not happy with the award they received and would have liked to seek an MR, and that many more would have liked to appeal, if the process had been quick, easy and not stressful.
She also declined to say if DWP agreed that the research showed that the assessment process was far less fair and accurate than DWP had consistently claimed.
But she said in a statement: “We’re committed to ensuring that everyone gets a fair assessment when claiming PIP, which is why we commissioned this research.
“These findings will be helpful in our efforts to continuously improve the process for everyone.
“We’re taking forward actions to promote transparency and trust, including introducing video recording of assessments, and to ensure that people get the support they’re entitled to the first time round.”
*Some of those surveyed gave more than one answer to why they did not seek an MR or an appeal
**DWP said at the time that the figures were “taken from internal DWP management information and should be viewed as estimates”, “should be used with caution”, and “may be subject to future revision”
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