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Quick changes must be made to benefit health assessments, says committee

Samantha Partington
Written By:
Samantha Partington
Posted:
Updated:
14/04/2023

Benefit claimants have a ‘profound lack of trust’ in the health assessment system that stands between them and their access to vital financial support, a new survey claims.

Some of the most common complaints with the system are a lack of knowledge of health conditions among assessors, delays in assessing claims, forms that were difficult to complete, poor communication from the Department of Work and Pensions, and factual errors in assessors’ reports.

The findings emerged from a survey carried out by the Work and Pensions Committee of 8,500 claimants who used the health assessment system to claim benefits for themselves or someone else.

The survey was part of an inquiry launched by the committee in autumn 2021 to examine the assessment processes for health-related benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance.

The inquiry also uncovered high rates of decisions reversed on appeal, for PIP claims this stands at 69%, and long waiting times.

Quick and easy measures

The Work and Pensions Committee is calling for a package of quick and easy measures to be implemented to improve the system for claimants.

Among the recommendations made by MPs on the committee was: to give claimants the choice between remote or in-person assessments, extending the deadline to return forms, targets to reduce assessment waiting times, and payments to people who have been forced to wait beyond the new targets.

The predecessor committee originally published a report on significant problems in assessments in 2018, but many of the recommended changes have not been made.

The Government announced that changes would be made to the health assessment process in a white paper published in March, but reform will not be swift and the current systems will remain in place for several years.

Committee chair, Sir Stephen Timms MP, said: “We surveyed eight and a half thousand people as part of our inquiry and found a profound lack of trust in the system as a consistent theme.

“Many will welcome abolition of the Work Capability Assessment [used for Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance to remain in place until 2026]. The Government’s process improvements, and recognition that the system causes undue stress and hardship, are steps in the right direction.

“However, waiting years for changes won’t cut it when quicker wins are available: flexibility of choice on assessment by phone or face-to-face; recording assessments by default; extending deadlines to reduce stress; and sending claimants their reports. All this will give much-needed transparency to a process that so few trust yet affects their lives so fundamentally.

“All efforts must be made for unnecessary limbo and stress for claimants to be put to an end.”