The disabled chair of the parliamentary committee, which scrutinises the government’s social security policies, has suggested that Atos and Capita are not to blame for the delay in the rollout of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
New claimants have been assessed according to the criteria for personal independence payments (PIPs) since April 2013. The government was due to begin reassessing existing DLA claimants in England Scotland and Wales for PIPs on Monday 28 October. But it emerged over the weekend that the reassessment process would be limited to Wales, the Midlands and East Anglia.
Speaking to Disability Now, Dame Anne Begg, the MP for Aberdeen South who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, said that news of the delay had come ‘out of the blue’.
“A researcher from the Today programme phoned me at quarter to 10 on Friday evening and that was the first I heard of it. I couldn’t find the written ministerial statement, it was apparently on 21 October so it was obviously sneaked out and nobody knew about it until some eagle-eyed person picked it up. I’m not sure whether my clerks, who are usually eagle-eyed, had seen the written ministerial statement and hadn’t quite appreciated what it meant because it was quite vague and full of jargon.”
The government said that the reason for the delay was that the assessment process was taking longer than originally anticipated. Dame Anne said that she was still unsure about the reasons for the delay.
“I know from my own constituency case work and speaking anecdotally to my colleagues that there are people who have had the PIP assessment, new claimants, in the summer who still haven’t heard whether they’ve been awarded it. I’m not yet clear whether that is Jobcentre Plus decision-makers who are taking a long time – it doesn’t seem as though Atos or Capita are slow to do the face-to-face assessments. Or it might be that when they’re asking for extra medical support evidence, the doctors who know the individual are taking a long time to respond.”
Dame Anne said that she was not concerned if the delays meant that disabled people were not unnecessarily put through the stress of being wrongly assessed in the future.
“The problem has always been that when you introduce a brand new benefit instead of reforming DLA, which my committee thought, they could have done, there’s going to be difficulties and perhaps different interpretations across the country until the criteria settle down and there becomes an accepted interpretation. The concern I have is that the delay and the thought of the assessment is causing a lot of anxiety because people know it’s coming but they don’t know when they’re going to get the letter.”
There’s no sense, according to dame Anne, that the latest delay indicates a government u-turn on PIPs. She points out that the rollout had already been delayed by the previous disability minister Esther McVey. But she said that she had always thought that the timescale for rolling out PIPs had been ‘ambitious’ and that if the most recent delay convinced ministers to reassess the timescale, then it would turn out to be a good thing.
Dame Anne said that as a first step, it was likely that the Work and Pensions Committee would be seeking clarification from the government about the reasons for the delay.