During a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday about Personal Independence Payments, I said:
Gerald Jones MP (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) on securing this important debate and on a making a powerful opening speech.
At Prime Minister’s questions a few weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister whether she agreed that the PIP assessment process was fundamentally flawed, and what action she intended to take to avoid the undue stress and hardship being caused to my constituents and thousands more across the country. It is very clear to hon. Members here and the people whom we represent that the process is not fit for purpose.
The chaos that is being caused is having a cruel impact on thousands of people across the country. The Prime Minister’s reply was that the assessments are being conducted as well as they can be, and that people are getting the awards that they should be getting and are entitled to. She also stated that since the Government introduced the personal independence payment, 8% of cases have been appealed and 4% of the decisions are changed on appeal. In my easy calculation, about 50% of decisions are overturned on appeal, and things are getting worse.
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour): Does my hon. Friend agree with my view? My constituent, Sarah Hassell, has cystic fibrosis, a degenerative disease. She is 30 and will not see retirement. Not only was she taken to a tribunal, but after that process, she was brought forward again for assessment. Her benefit was taken away, and she tried to kill herself because of this process, which she had already gone through once. The system is simply not working, and the tribunals are not working. When I wrote to the Secretary of State to ask for a response, I was just sent to a civil servant and was not graced with a response. My constituents need much better from this process.
Gerald Jones: My hon. Friend outlines a very sad and tragic case. It is one reason among many why the Government have to take note and listen.
The Prime Minister also stated that in the majority of cases, the change at appeal is due to the presentation at appeal of new evidence that was not presented at the original case. However, in the vast majority of cases that are brought to my attention at my constituency office and through Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly citizens advice bureaux, no new evidence is presented at appeal. The appeals are agreed, because the appeal panel recognises that constituents are genuinely in need of PIP and it supports the appeal. Furthermore, a growing number of assessments are consistently refused, and people are forced to go to mandatory reassessment and to appeal. I understand that currently about 65% of claims are overturned on appeal at tribunal. The growing number of appeals means that tribunals are taking longer to get to court—in my area, they are taking anything between four and seven months.
Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Labour): Every one of us has an email inbox full of these claims. Every single week, a new claim comes forward. The Minister has spoken about home assessments, but home assessments are not being done. It can be seen in Westminster Hall today how supportive the Labour party is, and how unsupportive the Tory party is, in relation to the whole PIP process.
Gerald Jones: My hon. Friend makes an important point, with which I wholeheartedly agree. The number of cases being brought to appeal and the length of time taken highlight the unnecessary cost of taking the cases to a tribunal. It stands to reason that if a large percentage of appeals are accepted, the original decisions are fundamentally flawed.
Liz Twist (Blaydon, Labour): Does my hon. Friend agree that for those with long-term conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, the right level of assessment is important to avoid the need for people to go to appeal, given that an understanding of the condition could avoid that appeal?
Gerald Jones: My hon. Friend highlights the current state of affairs and how necessary it is for the Government to take action.
I will conclude by briefly highlighting one of the many cases that has been brought to me. A client in my constituency—a gentleman who lives with his wife and three children in a housing association property—suffers with epilepsy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anxiety, depression and heart problems. He was already in receipt of PIP and was awarded enhanced daily living and mobility at tribunal in February 2015; that award was backdated. He switched his enhanced mobility for a car through the Motability scheme.
My constituent was contacted about the renewal of his claim in April 2016, and the renewal was sent to him. The local citizens advice bureau assisted him with completing the form, and medical evidence went in. His condition had deteriorated, but he was awarded zero points for daily living and mobility. So he had to return his mobility car, which he relied on, and borrow money from a family member to purchase a car.
The mandatory reassessment was lodged, and my constituent was awarded nine points for daily living and eight points for mobility—on appeal, those were enhanced further. The case went to tribunal and the judge advised him to go back to the Motability scheme as soon as possible and get his car back, but in the meantime he had wasted money on purchasing one. Interestingly, no additional evidence was given at the appeal stage that the DWP had not had prior to the tribunal. That is just one of many cases, and I am sure that Members across the country have similar concerns. The situation is grave, as most Opposition Members and our constituents know.
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire, Labour): Before my hon. Friend finishes, I want to make the point that there is a fundamental lack of understanding and compassion among assessors. Unbelievably, one assessor telephoned my deaf constituent and left them a message, which they would never, ever be able to access. How many penalties would they have for that? That is so basic that it is a disgrace.
Gerald Jones: My hon. Friend highlights an interesting point, and it is something that the Government need to get a grip on.
Unfortunately, the Government seem unwilling or unable to see the mess that is being caused or to do something about it. Will the Minister take stock of what she has heard in the debate this morning, give us some answers and get a grip on the situation?