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ESA and PIP inquiry: government response minimal

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PIP and ESA, inquiry, Work and Pensions Committee report, government responseThe resistance from the Department of Work and Pensions to instituting recording is ‘bewildering’.

The Work and Pensions Committee has published the government’s response to the committee’s two reports on PIP and ESA assessments.

The Committee’s final report was published in February, and expressed its concerns over assessment reports “riddled with errors and omissions” and the public contract failures that had “led to a loss of trust that risks undermining the operation of major disability benefits”.

Commenting at that time, the Committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, 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.

“[The] 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.

“No one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.

“Recording the face-to-face assessment would go so far toward increasing transparency and restoring trust it beggars belief that this is not already a routine element of the process.

“The resistance from the Department [of Work and Pensions] to instituting this is equally bewildering.

“The cost of providing a record of the assessment is surely nothing compared to the benefits of restoring trust. Those benefits should include far fewer decisions going to appeal – and being overturned there – at considerable legal expense to taxpayers.

“The current contracts have not made the system fairer, have not made it more transparent and have not made it more efficient.

“They are up for review, and market interest appears limp. The existing contractors have consistently failed to meet basic performance standards but other companies are hardly scrambling over each other to take over. The government should be prepared to take assessments in house.”

Here are some key points from the government’s response to the Select Committee’s report:

1 – Recording assessments: The Department [of Work and Pensions] 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”.

2 – 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 in 2018 and publish its report in 2019.

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

4 – 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”.

5 – 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.

6 – 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”.

7 – 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.

8 – 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.

9 – 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.

Commenting on the government’s response, Frank Field 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.”

To read the government’s full response, click here.

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