DWP's response to the coronavirus outbreak Contents

6Health assessments for benefit claims


107.To protect disabled people and people with health conditions from transmission of the virus, DWP suspended—for three-months—all face-to-face assessments for incapacity and disability benefits on 16 March, ten days before the official lockdown.118 It went on to make significant changes to protect people who need benefits, and those who administer them:

a)Suspension of face-to-face assessments for all incapacity and disability benefits (since 17 March) and then suspension of all requirements for people to attend the jobcentre in person (since 19 March);

b)Automatic extension of all awards, including awards decided by tribunal (since 24 March).119 For claimants whose awards would be due for reassessment within three months, their awards have been automatically extended by six months;120

c)Suspension of all reviews and reassessments across all benefits for three months, including Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (since 24 March).121

108.The changes were welcomed by charities including the Disability Benefits Consortium, SHINE (who support people with spina bifida and hydrocephalus), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), Macmillan Cancer Support, Mind, Motor-Neurone Disease Association, Scope and Citizens Advice.122 Citizens Advice Scotland told us that DWP’s flexible approach to changing its systems had helped both new and existing claimants:

The DWP’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak has included many welcome changes, benefiting those making a social security claim for the first time, but also those who were already supported by the UK’s safety net.123

109.DWP administers two main benefits for disabled people and people with health conditions. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, introduced in 2008), is an out-of-work benefit which supports people under the state pension age who have limited capability for work. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is intended to cover the additional costs of a long-term health condition or disability, and can be claimed by a person in or out of work. Contractors carry out assessments for both benefits on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions: Atos Independent Assessment Services (Atos), Capita, and Maximus Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (Maximus).

110.Our predecessor Committee did extensive work on disability benefits in both its 2018 report on the benefits assessment processes and its 2019 report on the Welfare Safety Net.124 It found that, despite the vital support DWP provides to disabled people through PIP and ESA, these payments rarely cover the true costs of living with a disability.125 It concluded that freezes and reductions in benefit rates had compounded the risk disabled people face of falling into poverty, even when DWP had decided that they were “not fit for work”.126 That Committee recommended that the Department should “commission an independent survey of the additional costs of disability and long-term health conditions”.127 It also concluded that, for many claimants, the assessment itself was a distressing and often flawed process.128

111.We heard from organisations that life costs much more for disabled people. Organisations including the Disability Benefits Consortium, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Scope and Mind told us that even with the support of DWP, many people face extra costs related to their disability or health condition which exceed the rates of the benefits to which they are entitled.129 Scope told us that disabled people on average have £108,000 less in savings and assets than non-disabled people.130 In their 2019 report, Disability Price Tag, they found that on average, disabled adults face extra costs of £583 a month.131 The weekly rate of Personal Independence Payment is between £57.90 and £89.15 depending on someone’s need for support with daily living, and between £23.60 and £62.25 if someone needs help with mobility. The weekly rate of Employment and Support Allowance is up to £74.35 if the Department decides the person has limited capability for work, and up to £115.55 per week if the Department decides the person has limited capability for work-related activity.132

112.The Department’s changes to assessments for disability benefits have gone some of the way to ensuring that disabled people get the payments they need during the pandemic. However, with such fast-paced policy change, we heard that some pre-existing problems with health and disability benefits have been exacerbated during the outbreak, and some new difficulties have arisen.

The challenge of providing medical evidence

113.The previous Committee’s February 2018 report on PIP and ESA Assessments described the assessment process for the two benefits:

PIP and ESA have similar assessment processes. All claimants begin by filling in application forms detailing their conditions and their effect on their day-to-day lives. These are submitted, alongside any supporting evidence (for example, from medical professionals or carers) to the Department. The Department then forwards the forms to one of three contracted assessment providers. The contractors assess the claimant’s functional impairment against a series of descriptors provided by DWP. For some claimants, the assessment is made on the basis of written evidence alone. Most, however, are required to attend a face-to face assessment carried out by a healthcare professional (HCP) employed by the contractor. Following the assessment the HCP sends a report recommending descriptors to DWP, where a Decision Maker decides on entitlement.

If the claimant disagrees with the decision, they can challenge it by requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). This is an internal review of the original decision by a second DWP Decision Maker. If claimants are still unsatisfied with the outcome after MR, they can go to a Tribunal.133

Since 17 March, if a person makes a new PIP or ESA claim, if they apply for, or are due a routine reassessment, or if they have a previously booked assessment rearranged by the Department, their assessment should happen over the phone or on paper.134 Some remote tribunal hearings are continuing, either over video conferencing software, over the telephone or on paper.135

114.We heard repeated evidence that the continued requirement to provide medical evidence was causing frustration and delays for people who were trying to claim PIP and ESA. The Disability Benefits Consortium, Disability Law Service and Macmillan Cancer Support told us that GPs have refused to issue “Fit Notes” for people who asked them for medical evidence to support their benefits claim.136 Some people who responded to our survey about people’s experiences of the benefits system during the coronavirus outbreak told us that they felt that medical staff were not able to treat benefits applications as a priority. They described their experiences:

“When you have been out of work sick getting a sick note took ages as doctors waiting lists are 3 to four weeks long to get an appointment.”

“I couldn’t find any guidance on the extension for returning the medical questionnaire both online and by telephoning ESA. There is no help available to get this form completed. I cannot get medical evidence either as my GP is too busy and my mental health centre is closed.”

“I rely on fit notes from my GP in order to continue to claim ESA. I had difficulties explaining this to the GP receptionist who informed me that I was not ill and would not have a telephone conversation to renew my note. I am unsure what will happen next as no one can advise me other than my ESA will stop without a fit note. I do not qualify for any other benefit.”

115.We heard that the task of supplying medical evidence is harder in the absence of face-to-face support from organisations. Mind, the Children’s Society, Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice identified that disabled people are particularly affected by the impact of lockdown on specialist assistance.137 With this in mind, Citizens Advice proposed that the Department could be more flexible with the types of evidence it accepts and “put more trust in the claimant”.138 Macmillan suggested that patient testimony and carer testimony could be used instead of medical evidence, and that cross-departmental work between DWP and the Department of Health and Social Care to reiterate guidance to clinicians is a “priority”.139

116.On 25 March, the Permanent Secretary told us that the Department would use the evidence it already held about a claimant to try to reach a decision. He said that:

In our case, for new PIP claims, we are not doing face to face assessments, as the Secretary of State has said. We are working to use the evidence that we have on paper, evidence we might have. For example, if a PIP claimant has already been through a work capability assessment for Universal Credit or ESA and we have evidence there. We are making outbound telephony if we need to fill in any of the gaps. We are all trying everything we can to expedite this, to get people through the process as quickly as possible to get the money that they are entitled to.140

117.Ministers have recognised throughout the outbreak that obtaining medical evidence can be difficult. On 23 April, the Minister for Disabled People told us that the Department is taking a flexible approach to medical evidence:

For new claimants, the terminally ill and for those who ask for it, we are seeking to do it by telephone and by paper-based reviews, adopting a very sympathetic, claimant-supportive view of this because we recognise that there are increasing challenges to being able to get adequate medical evidence, so we are relying very much on the claimants’ cases as they explain them.141

Ministers reiterated this on 15 May, when they told us that they “recognise the pressures on clinical staff” and “will continue to consider alternative evidence and work flexibly with the claimant and/or their clinician(s) to make a quick determination”.142

118.Medical professionals are facing unprecedented strain during this pandemic. At the same time, lockdown conditions have left people without their usual support, making it harder for them to navigate health assessments alone and to obtain the medical evidence they need to support their claim. The Department clearly recognises both problems: but front line experiences suggests that there may be a gap between Ministers’ expectations and reality on the ground. We recommend that DWP communicate clearly to its own staff and to its contractors that they should take a proportionate and flexible approach to evidence, which demonstrates the appropriate level of trust in claimants, recognising how difficult it may be for claimants to access medical evidence and appropriate support. We recommend that the Department collaborates with the NHS and relevant professional bodies to ensure that healthcare staff can provide claimants with the evidence they need, while ensuring this does not put undue strain on medical professionals.

Delays in processing claims

119.We have heard reports that the move to online assessments has trapped two groups of claimants in the system: people who applied for their benefits before the outbreak, and people who are midway through appealing a decision already made by the Department.

Claims started before the outbreak

120.For people who applied before the outbreak, Citizens Advice told us of “anecdotal evidence around people’s face-to-face assessments being cancelled, and then not having the reassessment put in place”.143 SHINE, a national charity that supports people with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, reported the same delays.144 Parkinson’s UK told us that as assessment companies have taken time to establish new ways to provide their services, and delayed assessments in the process, the impact for people with Parkinson’s “already in the system” will be “severe financial and emotional distress”.145 Macmillan Cancer Support told us about a caller who was receiving ESA and who had requested the addition of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP). The person was told by the Department that their payment “was not a priority for processing”.146 This decision has gone on to have a long-term impact on the support available to the individual, both from the monetary value of the SDP and the gateway it provides to other entitlements.147 Severe Disability Premium is worth £66.95 a week for a single person.148

121.We put to Ministers the evidence that we had heard about these delays. They responded in writing on 15 May that “there is no suspension or delay on new claim processing” and that they “continue to process claims as quickly as possible”.149

122.The Department has made significant changes to support new claimants to access the benefits system. However, we have heard from respected charities and support organisations that people who started their claim before coronavirus are facing substantial delays. The Department has given us no clear answers about the extent to which this is happening. In fact, it has not even acknowledged the concerns. We recommend that the Department investigate reports of significant delays faced by people whose claims began before the coronavirus outbreak, and publish its findings. It should also monitor and publish data on the time taken to process these claims, on an ongoing basis.

Appeals and mandatory reconsiderations begun before the coronavirus outbreak

123.If a person disagrees with a decision on their PIP or ESA claim, they can challenge it. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. A person may challenge a DWP decision if they were told that they were ineligible for the benefit, if they get a lower rate than they expected, or if they think the award isn’t long enough.150 The person needs to give specific reasons why they disagree with the decision and they can provide medical evidence to support this. If the Department does not change its decision when asked to look at it again, the claimant can appeal to an independent panel called a tribunal. This is called an appeal. Claimants must go through the MR process before they can begin an appeal. The appeals process is managed by the Courts and Tribunals Service, which sits within the Ministry of Justice.

124.Our predecessor Committee inquired into PIP and ESA assessments from 2017 to 2019. It found that, while only a minority of claimants challenge the initial decision made on their claim, the success rate of those that make it to the appeal stage, in particular, is significant.151 In January 2020, 36% of MR decisions on PIP claims resulted in a change, up from 23% a year previously.152 For ESA Work Capability Assessments, DWP revised 48% of its decisions that were challenged through an MR in January 2020.153 For PIP claims that went to appeal between April 2013 and September 2019, two thirds (66%) of DWP decisions were overturned in favour of the claimant.154 The rate was the same for ESA: between October 2013 and June 2019, 66% of DWP decisions at ESA appeal hearings were overturned.155

125.On 16 October 2019, the Director General for Work and Health Services at the DWP told our predecessor Committee that the Department had made changes to make the MR process more “holistic”:

The latest data that we have published shows that we are upholding more mandatory reconsiderations now, and we have introduced a holistic decision-making process, which basically means that at mandatory reconsideration, we contact the customer.[ … ] We can do a call-back, if that is more sensitive, but we try to collect any additional oral evidence that might not have been picked up in the assessment report, because we know that that is one of the biggest reasons why a claim goes to appeal and then is upheld.156

126.DWP Ministers told us that the Department is “continuing to process Mandatory Reconsiderations and appeals during the current Covid-19 pandemic”.157 For people who started their MR before the coronavirus outbreak, we heard about long delays. Autism Anglia, a small specialist organisation, told us that the MR process was “probably one of the biggest areas of concern” for them. It described the experience of one claimant:

I put in a UC MR [Universal Credit Mandatory Reconsideration] in Nov 2019. I started chasing up in Feb and then every two weeks. The situation became dire at the end of march when the claimant was placed in the Covid-19 vulnerable group and told he would not be resuscitated if he went into hospital. Two weeks ago [April 2020], I requested that the MR was escalated considering the situation. I was told, ‘these are unprecedented times and the DWP is stretched.’ I am aware of the situation but relaying that information could have been more considerate. I am still waiting for a MR for this case and 4 others. It seems MR’s have been pushed to the back of the queue.158

127.We heard the same concerns about delays to Mandatory Reconsiderations from Citizens Advice Scotland. It told us that “it is not clear what the impact of the outbreak is on people making a Mandatory Reconsideration request” but said that “decisions on these appears to have been de-prioritised”.159 Mind told us that there has been “little clarity” for people requesting an MR “about whether and how their challenges can proceed effectively”.160 The Disability Benefits Consortium expressed concern that “current pressures are likely to slow down the MR process”.161 Before the coronavirus outbreak, as of January 2020, the median MR clearance time for ESA was 16 calendar days.162 For PIP claims, the median MR clearance time was 48 calendar days as of January 2020.163

128.For people appealing their MR, the Courts and Tribunal Service has arranged urgent remote hearings, although Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) estimates that these hearings constitute only 20% of the number of hearings taking place before coronavirus.164 Appeals will now be held based on a paper or telephone hearing using questionnaires and supporting evidence. The Disability Benefits Consortium, Parkinson’s UK, the Disability Law Service, Z2K and Child Poverty Action Group told us that their clients had reported delays to their appeal hearings.165 Z2K said that their caseworkers had asked for paper hearings for cases from mid-March, but instead all hearings had been postponed.166 The Disability Law Service told us that its clients had had PIP appeal hearings postponed at very short notice, often on the day before or the same day.167

129.In answer to a parliamentary question about how many ESA and PIP tribunals had been postponed as a result of coronavirus, the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts said that “the information requested is not available”.168

130.Citizens Advice reminded us in oral evidence that, even before coronavirus, the average waiting time to appeal a disability benefits decision was already 32 weeks from the point of submitting a claim to receiving a decision.169 The Disability Benefits Consortium, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, Parkinson’s UK and Child Poverty Action Group told us that redeployment of thousands of staff from processing PIP payments would make it likely that claimants will have to wait even longer for a decision.170

131.For people whose appeal had been rearranged, we heard concerns that they now face difficult conditions in the remote process. Mind, Z2K and the Surrey Welfare Rights Unit, a charity which provides legal advice on benefits, said that a range of factors mean that claimants are significantly less supported than in the usual face-to-face remote system. They listed constraints on conferencing software (which can only feature a limited number of people), inflexible timetabling and the reduced capacity of support organisations as reasons why many people have appeared at their hearing unrepresented and unsupported by an external advocate.171

132.Ministers told us that they were working closely with colleagues in the Courts and Tribunals Service to avoid delays to MRs and appeals where possible. As well as paper-based and telephony hearings, Ministers told us that they were working with HMCTS to test video hearings.172

133.Disabled people who challenge a decision on an award for Employment and Support Allowance receive the ESA ‘assessment rate’ of £74.35 per week during the appeal. Citizens Advice UK, Citizens Advice Scotland and Zacchaeus 2000 Trust suggested that an equivalent assessment rate for PIP appeals would be a helpful way to compensate people who lose their income when they challenge a DWP decision.173

134.In January 2020, a third of PIP claimants and half of ESA claimants who challenged the DWP through a Mandatory Reconsideration had the decision changed in their favour. Between April 2013 and September 2019, two thirds of PIP and ESA decisions that were taken to a tribunal were overturned in favour of the claimant. That means that, for the majority of people who appeal, they have to spend weeks living on far less support than they are entitled to. Delays in the appeals process were already unacceptably long before coronavirus, and the pandemic has only exacerbated them. For people who do reach a tribunal, remote hearings make it harder than ever for them to put their case forward. We recommend that the Department assesses the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on the length of time taken by the Mandatory Reconsideration and appeals processes. In light of the evidence of increased delays, we recommend that the Department pay people who are appealing a PIP decision an assessment rate, as they do for ESA claimants.

Extension of tribunal awards

135.We have also heard evidence that people who had been awarded PIP following a tribunal decision were not having their awards extended. Dan Norris, Head of Advice and Rights at CPAG, told us on 6 May that this was an area of increasing concern. He said that CPAG had been told that:

DWP are currently not able to—feel they are not able to—extend those awards when a renewal is due, in the way that most claimants who have their award decided directly by the DWP have been, because the DWP feel they do not have the legal authority to overwrite or extend an award made by a first-tier tribunal.174

He said that CPAG hoped that the Government would address this “as a matter of urgency”, noting that:

These people have already had difficulties in establishing their award and, because they have had those difficulties and have to go to appeal, are now facing, potentially, a loss of income at this particularly difficult and stressful period.175

136.In answer to a written Parliamentary Question on 22 May, however, the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health said that:

Since 24 March the Department has been extending awards of PIP due to end from that date onwards, regardless of whether the final decision on the award was made by a Case Manager or a Tribunal.

He went on to explain that there had initially been difficulties with doing this, but said that these had now been resolved:

There were a small number of claimants who had previously been awarded short-term fixed awards with no review who had made subsequent new claims to PIP, where safeguards in the system originally prevented us from extending their previous award. I can however now confirm that we have amended the system to correct this and all claimants whose awards were due to end or due for review from 24th March onwards will have had their benefit extended.176

137.People who have had to go to tribunal to establish that they are entitled to PIP have already gone through a stressful and difficult process. For some of them, those difficulties have been compounded by DWP’s initial refusal to extend some awards made by tribunal. The Department says that this problem has now been resolved. We encourage Ministers to continue to engage with support organisations to ensure that, in practice, people are not facing difficulties in having their PIP awards extended.

Changing numbers of claims

138.As of January 2020, the average new PIP claim under normal rules took 19 weeks from the point of registration to a decision being made on the claim.177 As of September 2019, the average clearance time to complete the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance was 14 weeks.178 The Minister for Disabled People told us that the average length of time to process health-related benefits has improved since the outbreak.179 He said that paper and telephone-based assessments “will speed up the claimant experience” because now claimants do not have to book, wait for and attend an assessment in a Jobcentre.

139.DWP Ministers also told us that the number of new claims to Personal Independence Payment has halved compared to last year, but new claims to ESA have more than doubled. In April 2019, DWP received 43,000 PIP claims; in April 2020, it received 25,000 new claims. In April 2019, DWP received 7,000 ESA claims; in April 2020, it received 18,000 new claims for ESA.180

140.The Minister for Disabled People told us on 23 April that DWP had redeployed over half of staff working on Personal Independence Payment:

The number of staff that I have normally across disability benefits is about 5,600 and we are at about half of that now. There are about 2,000 left within the main disability Personal Independence Payment. We cannot read too much into that.181

Asked to comment on the reasons why the numbers of PIP claims might have fallen, he said that he could “only speculate at the moment” but that that question was “a live thing that we are looking at”.182

141.The Department has told us that the time taken to process new claims has reduced since the outbreak. That is welcome in principle. But we also know that significantly fewer people have made claims for Personal Independence Payment. The reasons for that are not yet clear, but it may suggest that people are being deterred from making new claims and may be going without the support they need as a result. We recommend that the Department investigate why the number of claims for PIP has fallen so dramatically, and take steps to identify and address any barriers to claiming.

Audio-recording assessments

142.In 2018, our predecessor Committee called on the Department to offer audio-recording of assessments to improve the then significant lack of trust in the claims process.183 The Department told the Committee that it was exploring potential options to test the recording of assessments, including video recording. The Department acknowledged that while in theory claimants can record their assessments, in practice very few take up this option.184

143.Recorded assessments can save money both for claimants and the Department. Feeding Britain told us that they are much more likely to deliver fair and reliable outcomes, meaning that the Department could avoid the lengthy appeals processes that put both themselves and claimants severely out of pocket.185 During the suspension of face-to-face assessments, it has called for telephone assessments to be recorded.

144.It was welcome therefore to hear the Minister for Disabled People’s enthusiastic support for audio recording of assessments He told us that the Department is “working at pace” to enable audio-recording:186

The audio-recording of telephone calls we cannot do yet. We would like to be able to offer that and we are working at pace to try to find a way around doing that. [ … ] We were looking at audio-recording as a given within the physical assessment centres because we could then literally buy the equipment and put it there in a consistent approach. But when you are doing it by telephone, you are not in a physical location. We are looking at how that can be done. I would like to see it if a claimant wants it and only if a claimant wants it.187

145.In a letter of 15 May, DWP Ministers explained to us the technical challenges of introducing recording of assessments. They said that:

We are exploring all communication channels with our suppliers to enable a telephony assessment to be recorded. The principal challenge we need to overcome, before a start date can be considered, is how we protect the claimant’s data at all times. This will depend upon what recording method we use and will be considered at all stages as we make progress towards the option of claimants choosing to have their telephone assessments recorded.188

146.Ministers confirmed to us that advocates can be present during telephone-based assessments, as they could in face-to-face assessments:

Companions are able to join telephony assessments, just as they would have done for the face-to-face assessment. This is confirmed to the claimant in the initial invitation to assessment letter for all phone assessments. If choosing to request a companion, they will be added to the call by the Health Professional at the start of the assessment.189

147.We know that offering claimants the option of recording assessments improves trust in the system, and leads to fairer decision-making with fewer appeals. Many expert organisations, and our predecessor Committee, have been calling for audio-recording of assessments for some time. The Minister’s enthusiasm for this policy is welcome—but it is now time that the Department’s contractors got on with delivering it. We recommend that the Department work with its contractors as a matter of urgency to offer audio-recording of assessments by default, subject to the claimant’s consent, no later than September 2020.

Accessible communications

148.Our predecessor Committee’s 2018 report on PIP and ESA assessments highlighted failures by the Department to meet disabled peoples’ access needs. It said:

For some claimants, problems with applying for PIP or ESA result from failures by the Department to meet their accessibility needs. Most claimants currently call a telephone number to begin their claim. For people with hearing loss—a very common disability—making this phone call may not be possible. The Department offers an alternative Textphone number, but organisations supporting hearing impaired claimants told us that Textphones and minicoms are not widely used. There is also a video relay service for British Sign Language (BSL) users, but this is not accessible to those who do not speak BSL.190

149.In response to that Committee’s recommendations, the Department said that it was already making improvements to communications about PIP and ESA. It explained that:

This includes testing products in accessible formats and exploring opportunities to provide better support to claimants with complex needs. We have worked with representative organisations via existing Department for Work and Pensions stakeholder forums to ‘test’ whether we are meeting the needs of our claimants.191

In response to the report, the Department also committed to providing the PIP application forms in Easy Read, providing an Easy Read version of the accompanying guidance; and making videos that outlined the PIP application process.192

150.On 18 March 2020, we heard evidence from disability charities about the assessment process. We asked whether there had been any improvements to the accessibility of DWP’s communications since our predecessor Committee’s report in 2018. Eleanor Southwood, Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told us that RNIB had been working with DWP since 2013 to try to make improvements, but that progress had been “limited and very slow”.193 She explained:

To make this real, this is about sending out printed letters to people who cannot see and expecting that to be an appropriate start to a process. The actual application forms are not accessible electronically. The PIP 2 form is not available to the general public and the PIP 1 form is not accessible; ditto the ESA 50 and UC 50 forms.194

She said that RNIB had “provided support to the Department to resolve that issue” but nothing had happened. She also told us that “there is no way of recording people’s communication needs in the process.”195

151.On 25 March, we asked the Permanent Secretary for an assurance that disabled people, and especially people with visual impairments, would receive communications from DWP in a form that was accessible to them. He told us: “Yes, we definitely want to do that.”196

152.We were disappointed to hear that the Department has made very little progress on the accessibility of its communications since our predecessor Committee’s inquiry in 2018. It is unacceptable at any time for the Department to fail to provide accessible communications to disabled people. But at a time when many people cannot access support in person, it is all the more important that the Department should be recording and meeting people’s communication needs. We were grateful for the Permanent Secretary’s assurance that this would happen—but the Department’s past performance does not fill us with confidence. We recommend that the Department set out, in response to this report, the steps it has taken—and any future plans it has, with dates by which it expects work to be complete—to ensure that its communications with disabled people take account of their communication needs.

Lessons for the future

153.As our predecessor Committee’s 2018 inquiry showed, the problems surrounding the PIP and ESA assessment are longstanding and complex. This Committee will have the chance to explore them in more detail in our own inquiry into disability benefits. In the meantime, the changes made necessary by the coronavirus outbreak offer the Department the opportunity to “test and learn” new approaches.

154.In particular, there is an opportunity to consider whether the use of face-to-face assessments could usefully be reduced even in ‘normal’ times. Ayaz Manji of Mind told us:

We think reducing unnecessary face-to-face assessments in any context is a good thing, to avoid people being put through that process when they do not have to be.

He added, however, that “if the only measure is taking the current process and system and removing the face-to-face assessment from it, it is not going to work.”197

155.Other witnesses also suggested that there was an opportunity to consider the way in which evidence was gathered and used as part of the assessment process. Minesh Patel, Principal Policy Manager at Citizens Advice, told us:

Often what we have seen with face-to-face assessments pre-coronavirus was that it could often feel like a bit of an interrogation, where you are having to prove your disability and prove that you are struggling and need support. We think there needs to be a bit of a switch to putting more trust in the claimant and the information that they are sending through, to then reduce the need for doing lengthy processes either over the phone or other means.198

156.Concerns about face-to-face assessments for PIP and ESA are not new. The necessity of suspending those assessments during the coronavirus outbreak offers the opportunity for DWP to “test and learn” from new approaches which might work better for some claimants. We recommend that DWP considers whether any of the changes made to the assessment process in response to coronavirus could usefully be made permanent, for some or all claimants.

118 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Face-face health assessments for benefits suspended amid coronavirus outbreak,’ accessed 4 June 2020

119 Q95; PQ 47371 [on Personal Independence Payment], 15 May 2020

120 Q95

121 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Coronavirus update - benefit reviews and reassessments suspended,’ last updated 25 March 2020, accessed 4 June 2020

122 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056)

123 Citizens Advice Scotland (SWP0058)

124 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829; Work and Pensions Committee, Twenty-Eighth Report of Session 201719, Welfare Safety Net, HC 1539

125 Work and Pensions Committee, Twenty-Eighth Report of Session 201719, Welfare Safety Net, HC 1539, para 47

126 Work and Pensions Committee, Twenty-Eighth Report of Session 201719, Welfare Safety Net, HC 1539, para 49

127 Work and Pensions Committee, Twenty-Eighth Report of Session 201719, Welfare Safety Net, HC 1539, para 48

128 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829; para 9

129 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (SWP0045),Scope (SWP0068), Mind (SWP0060)

130 Scope (SWP0068)

131 Scope, Disability Price Tag, (February 2019), p 2

132 Gov.UK, ‘Benefit and Pension Rates 2020 to 2021’, as of 9 April 2020; accessed 4 June 2020; Gov.uk, ‘Employment and Support Allowance’, accessed 4 June 2020

133 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829, Box 1

134 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Face-to-face assessments for benefits suspended amid coronavirus outbreak,’ accessed 4 June 2020

136 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043), Disability Law Service (SWP0051), Q155 [Eve Byrne]

137 Mind (SWP0060), The Children’s Society (SWP0050), Citizens Advice (SWP0053), Q142 [Dan Norris], Q137 [Minesh Patel]

138 Q42

139 Q54

140 Q44

141 Q95

143 Q139

144 SHINE (SWP0046)

145 Parkinson’s UK (SWP0079)

146 Macmillan Cancer Support (SW00055)

147 Macmillan Cancer Support (SWP0055)

148 Gov.UK, ‘Benefit and Pension Rates 2020 to 2021’, as of 9 April 2020, accessed 2 June 2020

150 Citizens Advice, ‘Challenging a PIP decision - mandatory reconsideration’, accessed 9 June 2020

151 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829, para 3

152 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics’, January 2020, accessed 8 June 2020

153 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘ESA: Work Capability Assessments, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Appeals’, accessed 7 June 2020

154 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics’, accessed 6 June 2020; Department for Work and Pensions, ‘ESA: Work Capability Assessments, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Appeals’, accessed 6 June 2020

155 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘ESA: Work Capability Assessments, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Appeals’, accessed 6 June 2020

156 Oral evidence taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on 16 October 2019, HC 50, Q332 [John-Paul Marks]

158 Autism Anglia (SWP0035)

159 Citizens Advice Scotland (SWP0058)

160 Mind (SWP0060)

161 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043)

162 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘ESA: Work Capability Assessments, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Appeals’, accessed 8 June 2020

163 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics’, accessed 8 June 2020

164 Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056)

165 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043), Parkinson’s UK (SWP0079), Disability Law Service (SWP0051), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056), Child Poverty Action Group (SWP0064)

166 Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056)

167 Disability Law Service (SWP0051)

168 PQ43706 [on Social Security Benefits: Appeals], 5 May 2020

169 Q13 [Minesh Patel]

170 Disability Benefits Consortium (SWP0043), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056), Parkinson’s UK (SWP0079), Child Poverty Action Group (SWP0064), Q97 [Justin Tomlinson]

171 Mind (SWP0060), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056), Surrey Welfare Rights Unit (SWP0044)

173 Citizens Advice (SWP0053), Citizens Advice Scotland (SWP0058), Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (SWP0056)

174 Q139

175 Q139

176 PQ 47371 [on Personal Independence Payment], 15 May 2020

177 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics’, accessed 8 June 2020

178 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘ESA: Work Capability Assessments, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Appeals’, accessed 4 June 2020

179 Q97

181 Q97

182 Q98

183 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829, para 9

184 Work and Pensions Committee, Eight Special Report 2018, Appendix: Government Response, HC 829, Recommendation 6

185 Feeding Britain (SWP0026)

186 Q103

187 Q103

189 Ibid.

190 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments, HC 829, para 22

191 Work and Pensions Committee, Eighth Special Report of Session 2017–19, PIP and ESA assessments: Government Response, HC 986, p. 5

192 Ibid.

193 Oral evidence taken on 18 March 2020, HC 177, Q29 [Eleanor Southwood]

194 Oral evidence taken on 18 March 2020, HC 177, Q29 [Eleanor Southwood]

195 Ibid.

196 Q28

197 Q8

198 Q142

Published: 22 June 2020