The Government has pledged to review all 1.6 million disability benefit claims after deciding not to fight a High Court ruling on personal independence payment (PIP) that a judge called “blatantly discriminatory”.
The court ruling in December, ministers previously said, could see 220,000 PIP claimants awarded higher payments.
Earlier estimates suggested it would impact 164,000 people’s benefits and would cost £3.7 billion by 2022.
So how did a decision aimed at saving money and improving the benefits process go so wrong?
It starts with Esther McVey, the very person whose return to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) this month, was met with such anger.
WHAT IS PIP?
The Personal Independence Payment was introduced in April 2013 during Esther McVey’s first stint at the DWP under then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
PIP will eventually replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and McVey said at the time that it would “better reflect today’s understanding of disability”.
Those receiving the new payment were required to undergo medical reassessment.
A DWP spokesperson said of the change: “PIP is a better benefit which takes a much wider look at the way an individual’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis. Under PIP, 29% of claimants receive the highest rate of support compared to 15% under DLA.
“Decisions are made following careful consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist. Anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
ELIGIBILITY - according to the Government
If you’re aged 16 to 64 you could get between £22 and £141.10 a week by claiming PIP.
The amount you get depends on how your condition affects you, not the condition itself, the Government website explains.
You’ll be assessed by a health professional to work out the level of help you can get. Your rate will be regularly reviewed to make sure you’re getting the right support.
Your carer could get Carer’s Allowance if you have substantial caring needs.
PIP is broken into two parts - a daily living component and a mobility component.
A person’s need is judged through a points system. The more severe the impact in a particular area, the more points they get, and ultimately, the more money.
The assessment first looks at how the claimants’ condition affects their life in terms of day to day things, like their ability to cook a meal. The second part looks at mobility.
WHAT IMPACT DID IT HAVE?
After the change, private contractors Atos and Capita undertook benefit medical reassessments of claimants that led to more than 180,000 claims being disallowed.
Last year, a Freedom of Information request by The MS Society revealed nearly one in three people with multiple sclerosis - a seriously debilitating long-term condition - were having their claims for PIP turned down.
WHY DID IT END UP IN COURT?
In March last year, the Government introduced regulations limiting the amount of support people with psychological distress could receive for making journeys.
The change, which overturned the decision of an independent 2016 tribunal, prevented the award of a higher PIP mobility rate if someone was unable to take a familiar journey on their own unless it was “for reasons other than psychological distress”.
The DWP said at the time that a review found the assessment process may not be working as planned.
The department said: “A significant number of people are likely to be getting the benefit despite having minimal to no ongoing daily living extra costs”.
It further stated at the time that its data to December 2015 showed that one in three claimants, who receive the daily living component of PIP, did so only as a result of needing aids or appliances.
DWP health professionals reviewed some of these cases and, in 96% of them, found the likely extra costs of daily living were nil or low.
Many of the aids and appliances for which points are being awarded are likely to be already found in people’s homes, provided free by the NHS and local authorities, or can be bought cheaply, the DWP said.
The Public Law Project challenged the decision in the High Court on behalf of a woman with psychological difficulties.
In December, a judge ruled that the amendment “could not be objectively justified” and was “blatantly discriminatory” and in breach of human rights.
The judge said the Government’s claims that mental health sufferers require less support to travel were in breach of the Human Rights Act, and amounted to no more than “subjective opinion”.
The judge also found that the Secretary of State did not have lawful power to make the regulations without consultation, because they went against the very purpose of what the PIP regime sought to achieve.
This landmark ruling is a damning indictment of the Government’s discriminatory approach to PIP support and its refusal to make this support available to people with mental health conditions." Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
The Government previously indicated it would appeal the decision, but on January 19 McVey ruled out fresh legal action in a written statement to Parliament, meaning thousands of people could be entitled to more benefits.
She said: “My department will now take all steps necessary to implement the judgment in mental health in the best interests of our claimants, working closely with disabled people and key stakeholders over the coming months.
“Although I and my department accept the High Court’s judgment, we do not agree with some of the detail contained therein. Our intention has always been to deliver the policy intent of the original regulations, as approved by Parliament, and to provide the best support to claimants with mental health conditions.”
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The Government has pledged to review all 1.6 million disability benefit claims and has said this could see 220,000 PIP claimants awarded the higher payments.
Following the court decision, ministers estimated it would affect 164,000 people’s benefits and would cost £3.7 billion by 2022.
HOW WAS THE NEWS RECEIVED?
Philip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, wrote: “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.
“We hope this doesn’t mean that some disabled people are going to have to attend yet more assessments.
“This review highlights the ongoing and persistent failures of the assessment process, which is badly designed and implemented. Huge amounts of tax payer’s 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.”