The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is causing “muddle” and “confusion” by refusing to clarify which disabled people will have their claims re-examined through its mammoth programme of disability benefit reviews.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced last week that DWP would review 1.6 million personal independence payment (PIP) claims to see which claimants might be entitled to backdated, increased payments.
The review follows last month’s decision by the new work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey (pictured), 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, 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.
Those new rules were only introduced because an upper tribunal ruling in November 2016 had found that DWP was wrong to say that such PIP claimants should not be entitled to those points.
Newton told MPs last week that the DWP review would “include screening the existing PIP caseload of some 1.6 million people to identify the group who may benefit”, but she also told Labour MP Stephen Timms that the department would look at those “who had zero points in their original claim” and therefore had had their claims rejected.
And McVey said last month that DWP would “undertake an exercise to go through all affected cases”.
But there is so far no clarity from DWP, or either minister, on how far back the department will go to review claims, including failed claims.
Welfare rights advisers warned this week that there was confusion around exactly which PIP claimants would now have their cases reviewed.
Andrew Clark, chair of trustees of Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), said it was “an area that we are urgently trying to investigate” but that “facts are hard to find”, while he said “the review promised by DWP seems to have rather more presentational substance than reality”.
Clark said DWP appeared to have “arbitrarily” taken November 2016 as the start date for the new interpretation of the overwhelming psychological distress mobility rules, which “suggests they will not be reviewing historic claims much before that date”.
This would mean that DWP would only be reviewing claims from the last 15 or 16 months.
And he said: “Given that DWP have processed 3.2 million claims for PIP but only 1.6 million are currently in payment [according to the December 2017 PIP official statistics], it’s pretty clear that they had in mind reviewing current claims, not previously failed ones.”
Clark also said he believed that the “review” would simply form part of DWP’s usual process of reviewing all time-limited PIP awards, “rather than being done as part of any separate exercise”.
Graeme Ellis, who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, said he also believed the review was “a muddled situation”.
Like Clark, Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s welfare rights adviser, said: “Although the DWP says it will review 1.6 million PIP claimants, it has not said from what date any extra PIP would be payable from.
“This means that there is confusion among both PIP claimants and advisers as to who will be included in the review and why.
“There is no excuse for the department not to urgently confirm this information.”
He said he believes that DWP will use the date of the upper tribunal decision in November 2016 to decide which claims to review, rather than reviewing all claims made since PIP was introduced in 2013.
He said: “It’s likely that the DWP instead will hold that the… judgement is a ‘test case’ meaning that it can legally pay arrears only from the date of the decision of November 2016.
“It would then only consider for review… PIP claims in payment at that time and since then and PIP claims made from then and refused.”
He added: “While the DWP has said it will consult with ‘stakeholders’ about the PIP review, this isn’t very reassuring.
“The whole history of PIP has shown that DWP listens to what disabled people say and then disregards it.”
Despite repeated attempts by Disability News Service to secure clarification, DWP’s press office has refused to provide any further information about which claims will be reviewed.
A DWP spokeswoman would only say: “As the secretary of state has previously confirmed, DWP will undertake an exercise to go through all affected cases in receipt of PIP and all decisions made following the [appeal court ruling] to identify anyone who might be entitled to more as a result of the judgment.”
Although this suggests that DWP will only look at claims made from November 2016 onwards, when she was asked to clarify whether this was correct, she said the department had “nothing to add”.