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Work & Pensions Committee: PIP & ESA trust deficit fails claimants and the public purse

In November 2017, the Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) submitted a contribution to the Work and Pensions Committee, who requested evidence and experiences of the medical assessments for disability benefits. Specifically, the Committee focused on the assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), carried out by private contractors Capita, Atos and Maximus.

GMLC’s submission focussed on the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) process. If a claimant’s application for benefits is rejected, they must go through the MR process before they can appeal. GMLC collected evidence from service-users and advice workers as well as other Greater Manchester individuals and organisations. The final report shows: there is a severe lack of trust in the application process, many claimants are caused unnecessary suffering, and an inefficient process costs more in the long run.

Many benefit decisions are reversed. Since 2013 there have been 170,000 PIP appeals taken to the Tribunal. Claimants won 63% of cases. In the same time, there have been 53,000 ESA appeals. Claimants won roughly 60%. The DWP spent about £100m on benefit appeals including the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR), creating immense stress for claimants and literally losing money during the process.

In the full report, the Committee says public contract failures have led to a loss of trust that risks undermining the operation of major disability benefits.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “For the majority of claimants the assessments work adequately, but a pervasive lack of trust is undermining its entire operation. In turn, this is translating into untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse. Government cannot, must not, fail to recognise the unprecedented response the Committee had to this inquiry, remarkable for the consistency and clarity of themes that emerged through thousands of individual accounts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) attests that the most common reason for decisions being overturned at Appeal is that new evidence has come to light. However, organisations who support claimants say that many decisions are revised by considering pre-existing evidence. Quite simply, the benefits should never have been denied in the first place. The DWP’s own data shows that this “new evidence” is most often oral evidence provided by the claimant, which could have been gathered at the initial assessment. The Department’s “lack of determination” in addressing this shows real weaknesses in its feedback to, and quality control over, contractors, which must be urgently addressed.

Tom Griffiths, GMLC member and Chair of the Manchester Mental Health Charter Alliance, said: “It appears that there is some progress being made as a result of persistent submissions from concerned organisations, individuals and legal networks. However there is still a long way to go to bring justice and integrity to the heart of the assessment process.”

Visit www.gmlaw.org.uk for a full summary of the Committee’s report.

Both Work & Pensions reports can be downloaded here:  Full report    Claimant experience


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