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Mystery surrounds how long telephone and paper-based assessments for PIP and ESA are to continue after a government minister refused to give an answer today, as the ban on face-to-face assessments expires.

Face-to-face assessments were banned for a period of three months from 17 March to June 17 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip.

Instead they were replaced by paper and telephone assessments.

On 11 June, we reported that Justin Tomlinson, minister of state for disabled people, told MPs two days earlier:

“As previously announced, all face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits were suspended from 17 March 2020 for an initial period of three months. We are currently in the process of reviewing this measure in light of the latest public health advice and will confirm next steps as soon as possible.”

However, when asked in writing again by an MP whether there were plans to extend the three month extension of face-to-face benefits assessments, Tomlinson responded today: “I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 9 June 2020.”

Given that the three months are now up, it is very surprising that no new statement has been made.

One possibility is that the DWP expect the social distancing rule to be reduced from 2 metres to 1 metre in the coming weeks, which would make face-to-face assessments possible again.

Another is that the DWP are looking at evidence as to whether telephone assessments lead to more awards of benefits or fewer and will base any decision about how to proceed on whether it will cut the benefits bill.

The same reluctance to commit themselves was shown in relation to reviews and reassessment.

In response to a written question on what plans there were to extend the suspension of benefits reviews and reassessments of UC, ESA and PIP, Tomlinson also replied today that:

“We are currently in the process of reviewing this measure, and will confirm next steps as soon as possible.”

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