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MPs have today lambasted the Government’s response to two reports that openly criticise the fairness and accuracy of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA and Personal Independence Payments PIP) assessments.

Responding to the Work and Pensions Commitee’s second report, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agreed to the recording of PIP assessments “as standard” and promised to improve “gruelling application forms”, among other measures.

However, the Committee argues the DWP’s response “falls short in several areas”, after the Department rejected several proposals from the Committee, such as refusing to send copies of assessment reports to all claimants “as default” and conduct an audit of arrangements for home visits.

DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

Key points from Government response

Recording assessments: The Department recognises that the complexity and potential costs of recording makes it difficult for claimants—of PIP especially—to record their assessment. It intends “to make recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process”. The Department is “currently exploring potential options to test the recording of assessments, including video recording”

Design of the forms: The Department will commission a three-stage process independent review of forms (identifying aspects of the forms that cause distress; revising and amending the forms in light of these findings; testing the revised forms with claimants). It expects to commence the work in summary 2018 and publish its report in 2019.

Auditing companions in assessments: The Department will consider how assessments where companions attend with claimants can be specifically examined in audit.

Copies of reports to claimants by default: The Department has rejected this recommendation, but has said it will make it clearer to claimants in standard communications that they can view a copy of their report should they wish. They believe this “is the best way to achieve transparency without providing claimants with material that they do not want”.

Auditing home visits: The Department will not conduct an audit of arrangements for home visits, including reasons for refusal. It does not believe that such an audit would add value to claimants.

Reviewing MR decisions: The Department states that “no adverse or incorrect decisions would have been made” as a result of the 80% MR “aspiration”, and “there was no link between the measure and the outcome of any decisions made at MR”. It does not offer further explanation aside from noting that the measure was an “aspiration for how many correct decisions we should be making first time”.

Evidence checklist: The Department rejected this recommendation, stating that HCPs are already required to make clear in their reports how they have used the evidence provided by claimants. It is unclear how claimants would necessarily be aware of this without receiving a copy of their report.

Auditing of assessment process: The response restates the Government’s commitment in response to Paul Gray to conduct more thorough, end-to-end auditing of the assessment process. It does not go into any additional detail about how this will be accomplished.

Contractual levers/the future of contracting: The response restates that “the Department’s use of contractual levers over the last contracts has led to consistent improvements across both PIP and ESA”. No commitment to further action.

*Source: Government responds to reports on PIP and ESA assessments

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Commenting on the Government’s response, Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Recording PIP assessments as standard is a tremendous step forward. The process relies on trust, and our inquiry found it sorely lacking. This move should go a long way to restoring trust and driving up the quality of assessments.

“A commitment to improving the gruelling application forms is also very welcome, and clearly the Government has listened to the thousands of claimants who contributed to our work.

“But the response falls short in several areas. For example, we think claimants should always receive their assessment reports without having to ask, and we are concerned that the Government lacks the levers to get value for money out of its private contractors.

“This response marks the start of another stage in our work on PIP and ESA – we will use House of Commons debates to push the Government to go further in support of disabled people.”

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Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, reiterated the Party’s pledge to scrap the current assessments regime and replace it with a system of “holistic support” that is “responsive to individual needs”.

“The Government is failing sick and disabled people”, she said. “This response falls far short of the urgent action needed to end the unnecessary stress and anxiety being inflicted through both the ESA and PIP assessment processes.

“Under private contractors these processes are getting worse, not better, often damaging the health and well-being of the very people who need support.”

She added: “The government should scrap the current assessment regime, put an end to the privatisation and work to deliver a social security system in which people can have confidence.

“Labour will replace this failing system with personalised, holistic support, responsive to individual needs.”

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