Belfast Telegraph

Prompt action needed to 'build trust and credibility' in PIP assessments: report

A review of Personal Independence Payments in Northern Ireland has said prompt action is needed in order to build "trust and credibility" in the process.

PIP was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016 replacing disability living allowance. When it was introduced, the government said it would be "much fairer" as it took a "much wider look at the way an individual’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis".

However, there have been many complaints about the process.

Walter Rader was commissioned by the Department of Communities to undertake a review of the process. His report outlined the experiences of 330 individuals, families, support workers and organisations with the assessment process, making 14 recommendations.

During his work he formed the view "a rigid one-size-fits-all process cannot respond to the circumstances of all claimants".

"The assessment process must, of necessity, be flexible," he said.

"The reality for claimants is that their normality is living daily with their conditions and the resultant impact on functionality."

From submissions made to his work, Mr Radar found the process was viewed with "distrust and suspicion".

"It is a fragmented process that impacts negatively on both claimants and those who seek to support them," he said.

"In particular the face-to-face assessment causes fear, anxiety, stress and frustration. This in turn has a knock on impact on the health and well-being of claimants, their family and wider support networks, placing even more demands on already stretched services."

He said issued raised were similar to concerns made in the scheme in Britain, adding: "Clarity is required regarding what constitutes relevant information, where it can be obtained and at what point in the process it should be submitted. Further attention should be given to, and value placed upon, gaining information on claimants’ functionality from those who see and support them on a regular basis.

"Prompt action is required to build trust and credibility in the process. Openness and transparency should be the hallmarks of an assessment process which aims to focus support to those who most require it because of their diagnosed conditions and restricted functionality."

The review has made 14 recommendations. They include the department addressing urgently the issues raised by claimants including how appointments are scheduled or cancelled and the assessment room used. And it's recommended there should be developed and enhanced training for assessors for specific conditions. It also recommends the recording of assessments.

Other recommendations include.

  • Having a series of outreach events.
  • An update of terminology used.
  • Ending the practice of using DLA evidence for reassessments.
  • A review of written material particularly initial letters to claimants and decision letters to eliminate jargon and use straight forward language.
  • There is suitable accessibility arrangements in place - for example those with communication requirements can apply by phone and staff training is reviewed.
  • The six month life expectancy requirement is removed and judgement of medical practitioner a claimant has a terminal illness should be sufficient.
  • Department make arrangements to access GP reports early.
  • Capita - the administrators - allowed additional time to await further evidence and step taken to ensure it knows additional evidence has been received.
  • A 'task and finish group' established to set out criteria for which conditions would be suitable for a paper review.
  • The removal of questions about suicide and self-harm from the assessment and and the removal and revision of informal observations from reports.
  • A copy of the assessor's report made available to all claimants.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon welcomed the report.

"This Independent Report confirms what many of us working to support claimants have known for some time," she said.

"The PIP assessment process does not have the confidence and trust of claimants or the public. Therefore prompt action is required to build trust and credibility, and importantly build openness and transparency into the entire process.

“This report is a positive starting point and it is clear that Walter Radar has listened to the experiences and concerns of claimants. I have written to the department today asking for immediate publication of their response to this report, given they had an embargoed copy in their procession, and a timeline for implementation of recommendations."

The Department of Communities has been asked for a response.

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