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Claimants who are due a reassessment of their disability benefits will have their award extended by six months, the work and pensions committee were told yesterday. The committee was also told that assessors were taking “a very sympathetic claimant supportive view” where assessments do take place.

At the committee session, Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, was asked “How is the new assessment system, paper and telephone assessments, working?”

Tomlinson responded:

“Really good. We obviously rightly very early doors made the decision to end face-to-face assessment, that was actually before the lockdown measures because we were conscious that you would expect a significant proportion of the claimants to be vulnerable and we wanted them to avoid having to do unnecessary travel. It proved to be the right decision,

“What we have done, for those that would be due for reassessment in the next three months, we’ve automatically extended their benefit by six months. If their condition has deteriorated and they feel that they would be entitled to more money, they can still request a reassessment but otherwise they automatically are extended.”

Not everything is entirely clear in this statement.

The benefits in question weren’t specifically named but seem most likely to be personal independence payment (PIP), disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA).

The date from which the three months runs is also not entirely clear.

Tomlinson gave this evidence on 23 April.

But face-to-face assessments ended for three months on 24 March, although at that time it was simply said that awards would continue, without further details.

So it seems likely, though not definite, that claims due for reassessment in the three months from 24 March will be automatically extended by six months.

Tomlinson also claimed that assessors were relying much more on the claimant’s own evidence when making assessments:

“Those new claimants, the terminally ill and for those who ask for it, then we are seeking to do it by telephone, by paper-based reviews adopting a very sympathetic claimant supportive view of this because we recognise that there are increasing challenges to be able to get adequate medical evidence. So we are relying very much on the claimant’s case as they explain it.

“We have had feedback from claimants that have said they are very glad that the gateway remains open and actually we’ve had very positive feedback from the assessors who are appreciating the ability to be able to work from home.”

Tomlinson suggested that the forced switch to paper and telephone assessments might be very beneficial for the DWP and that more telephone and paper-based assessments will take place in the future.

“As a side issue, this is actually very beneficial for us, because we were due to publish the Green Paper that was looking at the assessment process, claimants experience, recognising that there’s anxiety amongst claimants, what more could we do to reduce that. And actually, through in effect the forced changes we’ve have to do to handle the Covid 19 emergency we are actually testing those.

“And I actually think when we return to normal state I think there will be some very valuable lessons about how we can better use medical evidence, oral evidence from claimants and increase the proportion of cases that are done as a paper-based review.”

You can watch the committee session on parliament TV.

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