While listening to a parliamentary debate on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in April I was interested to hear Justin Tomlinson MP, the Minister for Disabled People, respond to a question on the success rate of appeals. The Minister claimed that in the majority of cases a PIP decision was overturned because of additional evidence given at tribunal. He went on to state that:
‘in theory the decision at the beginning was right, based on the evidence that was given, but we as a Department rightly provide people with two further opportunities to submit additional evidence for a reconsideration.’
The implication being that, in most cases where a DWP decision maker incorrectly finds a claimant ineligible for PIP, the blame rests not with the decision maker, who after all has apparently made the best decision possible on the basis of the evidence available, but on the claimant for not providing sufficient evidence.
Regardless of whether the Minister’s assertion was correct or not, the striking problem is that he fails to take into account the very real barriers disability benefit claimants face when seeking to supply medical evidence in support of their claims. It is now common practice for medical professionals such as GPs to charge significant sums for providing of evidence and many claimants simply don’t have the money to pay. Many more claimants also have mental health issues that mean they lack insight into their condition or have an impaired understanding of how processes work and the importance of gathering evidence. So it’s not a question of claimants simply failing to provide the necessary evidence.
This issue was followed up by Neil Coyle MP who, in a parliamentary question to Justin Tomlinson MP, asked what the statistical basis was for his assertion. The Minister replied that unverified internal management information for 2015/16 indicates that new oral or written evidence was the reason for the overturn of the original decision in 75% of successful appeals. Interestingly the Minister’s answer referred to both new documentary evidence and oral evidence.
In an answer to a follow up question just published Mr Tomlinson revealed that in fact the 75% was accounted for by cogent oral evidence in 66% of cases and new documentary evidence in only 9% of cases. This begs the question as to whether oral evidence can really be classified as ‘new’, after all the purpose of a tribunal is to ask questions of a claimant and their answers become oral evidence. In this way all appeals feature ‘new’ oral evidence.
The question that follows from this is why wasn’t this oral evidence available to the initial decision maker? Ask any PIP claimant about their assessment and the most common response is that they didn’t feel the assessor properly listened to them or didn’t allow them to talk about their condition outside of the narrow scope set by the assessment questions. One is left with the impression therefore that the only reason that the oral evidence wasn’t available the first time round is either the assessor didn’t ask the right questions or listen to and assign proper weight to the answers given.
In his answers it is clear that the Minister fails to recognise these manifest problems with the PIP assessment process. We hope that if MPs such as Neil Coyle and other disability campaigners continue to raise these issues he might be forced to listen.