Richard Hawkes ScopeDisability charity Scope has warned that there are fundamental flaws in the process of change from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP), which it says could see up to 600,000 people with disabilities lose access to the benefit.

From today [April 8] the Government begins the process of replacing DLA with PIP, which has tighter eligibility criteria and a new assessment. But Scope claims that there are worries that the change to PIP is a cost-cutting measure and that the assessment process for it is flawed and unlikely to accurately direct support to people that need it most.

Scope says this means that a disabled person could lose between £20.55 a week and £131.50 a week to support with the costs of living at home like preparing a cooked meal or the costs of getting out and about.

From DLA to PIP

On the first claim, the Government has already spoken of the number of people expected to lose the benefit – 500,000 – before the assessment process has begun.
Meanwhile, research published by Scope in 2011 revealed that the assessment, due to be delivered by private companies Atos and Capita, was deeply flawed. Worries remain that the assessment will be run like the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance, which has been criticised for high levels of successful appeals and stories of people inappropriately found fit to work.

Indeed, the Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of some 50 charities including Mencap, has pointed to how the two companies that will carry out the assessments plan to do it in different ways.

Initially, PIP will be introduced to new claimants with the Bootle benefit centre, which will process just a few thousand claims a month to begin with from areas including Merseyside, northwest England, Cumbria, Cheshire and northeast England.

From June new claims will begin in the rest of the country. Current DLA claimants will start to be re-assessed from October, but only if there is a change in circumstance or an existing award ends. However, most of the existing 3.3 million DLA claimants won’t be re-assessed until 2015.

Fundamental flaws

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said the reform is fundamentally flawed. “DLA needs reforming and could be better targeted to meet the extra costs people face. But disabled people are frightened by the Government’s plans. They believe it’s just an excuse to cut their support.

“It doesn’t help that the Minister is able to predict exactly how many disabled people will receive support before they have even been tested. This raises alarming questions that the Government is working to arbitrary targets.

“For months now we have been saying the Government’s assessment for the new personal independence payment is deeply flawed. It looks set to repeat the mistakes of the work capability assessment.

“It doesn’t take into account all the barriers that disabled people face in daily life. This means the support won’t be targeted to those that really need it.

“If the Government is serious about a Paralympics legacy where disabled people can fulfil their potential, they urgently need to reconsider their approach to welfare.”

The Government has defended the new benefit, which it says will give more targeted support to those who need it most.

“Disability living allowance is an outdated benefit introduced over 20 years ago and needs reform to better reflect today's understanding of disability,” said Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People.

“At the moment the vast majority of claimants get the benefit for life without any systematic reassessments and around 50% of decisions are made on the basis of the claim form alone – without any additional corroborating medical evidence.

“The personal independence payment will include a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews - something missing in the current system. This will ensure the billions we spend give more targeted support to those who need it most.”