Nearly half of disabled people subject to “planned reviews” of their eligibility for the government’s new disability benefit are having their existing award either cut or removed completely, according to new figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS).
The unpublished Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that the proportion of claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) who had their payments reduced after a planned review of their entitlement rose from less than 10 per cent in 2014 to nearly 20 per cent in 2016.
The proportion who lost their PIP completely after a planned review increased from 13 per cent in 2014 to nearly 25 per cent, or one in four of all reviews, in 2016.
This means that nearly half of PIP claimants (44 per cent) who had a planned review of their award in 2016 either saw it cut or lost it entirely.
But the proportion of claimants of PIP – which was introduced in April 2013 and is gradually replacing disability living allowance (DLA) for working-age claimants – who saw their award increased fell from 23 per cent in 2014 to less than 16 per cent in 2016.
The figures, which refer to the initial outcomes of the reviews – before any appeals – were obtained by DNS through a freedom of information request*, and suggest the government has secretly made it more difficult for disabled people to continue to claim PIP, which provides financial support to pay for the extra costs they face as a result of their impairments.
They also confirm anecdotal reports from welfare rights advisers, activists and MPs – as well as cases received by DNS – of growing numbers of disabled people who should have continued to be found eligible for PIP but have had their payments either cut or stripped away entirely.
Many of them have previously spoken to DNS as part of its ongoing investigation into claimants who have had their PIP reduced or removed after dishonest assessment reports compiled by healthcare professionals working for DWP contractors Atos and Capita.
Only last week, Labour’s Derek Twigg told fellow MPs: “I just cannot understand why some of the people who come to see me have not been awarded their [PIP].
“I have had experience of cases such as these over a number of years now, and I have never come across such difficult cases as those I have seen recently.”
In the same debate, Labour MP Clive Efford told MPs that he found it “impossible” to understand some of the decisions made on the PIP claims of his constituents and that he believed something was clearly “wrong” with the system.
DWP has previously published figures showing the proportion of DLA claimants who were awarded PIP after being assessed for the new benefit for the first time, with 23 per cent receiving a cut to their benefit, 25 per cent losing entitlement completely, but 40 per cent seeing their awards increased.
But this is believed to be the first time DWP has released figures showing how it has cut the benefits of disabled people who had already been found eligible for PIP, and they show a much bigger gap between those who lost out and those who gained from the new assessment than the DLA reassessment figures.
Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, from the Spartacus Network, said PIP was aimed at people with long-term conditions, most of which do not improve, so she “would be surprised to learn that 44 per cent of PIP claimants actually have a condition which improves within a few years”.
She said it was difficult to know the explanation for the figures “without the government being transparent on this”.
She said: “I think any change made, whether to guidelines or training or legislation, should be publicised, so sick and disabled people know what they’re facing.
“The government will probably argue that it is improving the accuracy of assessments.
“But its arguments regarding the mobility threshold, aids and appliances, and now on mental health, show that it has no evidence that people are getting more help than they need, and plenty of evidence that people are getting less help than they need.
“It’s disturbing that the government plays with benefit assessments in this way without any scrutiny, justification or decent evidence.
“If it’s going to shaft people, at least let it do so in the open.”
Anita Bellows, a Disabled People Against Cuts researcher, said the figures “show a very worrying trend over three years in the number of PIP claimants being reassessed and either losing their award or having their award decreased.
“They show that 44 per cent of PIP claimants lost out and only 16 per cent gained [in]2016 when they were reassessed.
“Interestingly, and unlike employment and support allowance, these reassessment statistics are not published as part of DWP normal statistics releases.
“It looks like DWP is not keen to have these figures in the public domain.”
When asked for an explanation for such a sharp rise in disallowances and reductions in PIP awards, and whether this was taking place because DWP was trying to cut spending on disability benefits, a DWP spokesman failed to provide any explanation for the figures.
Instead, he provided a lengthy statement** which included information about levels of spending on PIP, why the government had introduced the new benefit, and why there was a need for regular reviews.
But he also said that DWP “did not start most reassessments of DLA cases onto PIP until mid-2015.
“As we’ve explained, many claimants moved across to PIP will not have had award reviews yet and therefore will not be represented in the data.
“We will have to wait many years to see the full outcome of transferral from DLA to PIP represented in statistics.”
Meanwhile, members of the House of Lords will next week debate new regulations that will make it more difficult for people with severe mental distress to secure the mobility-related support they need through PIP.
Peers will debate both a motion to “annul” the regulations, brought by the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokeswoman Baroness Bakewell, and a “regret” motion, brought by the Labour work and pensions spokeswoman Baroness Sherlock.
The motion to annul could see the new regulations thrown out, if backed by both peers and MPs, but the motion of regret would have no affect on the regulations even if it was passed by peers.
A similar attempt to secure a debate on the regulations in the Commons has so far been ignored by the government, with Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams raising a point of order with the Commons speaker on Tuesday about the failure to schedule a debate before the Easter recess.
She said this was a “sad reflection” on the government’s attitude to the House of Commons, as more than 160 MPs had signed an early day motion “praying” against the introduction of the regulations.
DNS was unable to contact the government whips’ office for a comment on the failure to schedule a debate in the Commons because of yesterday’s terrorist attack outside parliament.
The new PIP measures came into force last week and were brought in to reverse two upper tribunal rulings.
The government’s decision to reverse the rulings means an estimated 164,000 claimants will not now be eligible for the mobility component of the benefit or will receive a lower level than they would have received, while an estimated 1,500 PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor a health condition will now either not be eligible for the PIP daily living payment or will receive a lower level.
*In its freedom of information response, DWP warned that the release contained “unpublished data” and “should be used with caution” and “may be subject to future revision”
**This is the rest of the DWP statement in full:
“Spending on disability benefits (PIP and DLA) is at a record high – up by more than £3 billion since 2010 and higher every year to 2020.
“27 per cent of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support under PIP, compared to just 15 per cent under the outdated DLA.
“PIP award rates and their durations are set on an individual basis, based on the claimant’s needs and the likelihood of their needs changing.
“Regular reviews for PIP claimants are a key feature of the benefit, and ensure that benefit payments accurately match the current needs of claimants – something fundamentally missing from DLA, which PIP began to replace in 2013.
“Under DLA, 70 per cent of all claimants had indefinite awards with little prospect of a review.
“As a result, a significant number of claimants (whose condition had deteriorated) were not receiving the right amount of benefit.
“We designed PIP to be a more interactive benefit with enough contact with claimants to ensure any changes in functional ability can be identified and that claimants receive the right support at the right time.
“PIP is a different benefit to DLA; moving from DLA to PIP does not mean someone is automatically entitled to PIP, nor guaranteed the same level of award.
“PIP has also been designed to focus support on those who need it most: 34 per cent of reassessed cases given an award of PIP were given the highest possible rate of benefit compared with only 15 per cent on DLA (working age, April 2013).
“DLA was in urgent need of reform and many DLA claimants had not undergone any kind of assessment of their needs for several years.
“PIP is a better – and fairer – system designed to focus support on those experiencing the greatest barriers to living independently.
“In all cases, the outcome depends very much on individual circumstances and the needs arising as a result.”
Picture: Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people and responsible for PIP