The DWP has said this week that it intends to make audio recording of all PIP assessments standard practice. It also plans to make the PIP claim form more user friendly. However, the DWP made the promises to the Work and Pensions Committee and it has form for breaking promises made in similar circumstances.

We were wrong . . . possibly
Back in November 2017 Benefits and Work readers made a huge contribution to the parliamentary inquiry into PIP and ESA assessments.

The report subsequently published in February 2018 by the Work and Pensions Committee was based on contributions by an unprecedented 4,000 claimants, “the most ever received by a select committee inquiry, by an order of magnitude.”

One of the headline conclusions of the report was that it ‘beggars belief’ that PIP and ESA assessments are not routinely recorded.

At the time we argued that the DWP would fight to the bitter end to prevent the routine recording of assessments.

It seems that we were wrong.

The DWP are still not giving any undertaking to routinely record ESA assessments – recording will still be at the request of the claimant only. But in relation to PIP they appear to have given way.

The announcement has been greeted with delight by a range of agencies. Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said:

"Recording PIP assessments as standard is a tremendous step forward. The process relies on trust, and our inquiry found it sorely lacking. This move should go a long way to restoring trust and driving up the quality of assessments.

“A commitment to improving the gruelling application forms is also very welcome, and clearly the Government has listened to the thousands of claimants who contributed to our work.”

Here at Benefits and Work we still feel there is a long way to go before there is any certainty that routine recording of PIP assessments will actually happen, or that forms will be simplified.

Broken promises
For one thing, the DWP has no hesitation in breaking its word when it wishes.

Back in February we reported on the fact that the DWP had broken, or kicked into the long grass, a series of promises it made to the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

One of these was a promise to trial issuing a warning before a first sanction. This will not now happen because of an alleged lack of parliamentary time to pass legislation.

Another was a promise to work with other government departments to estimate the impacts of sanctions on claimants. The DWP have now said they will not do this because they have discovered they “do not have the capacity to undertake this activity.”

Another promise was to look into why sanctions were imposed inconsistently by different jobcentres and providers and report back by the end of 2017. The DWP now says it will not finish its research until March 2018 and has not given a date when it will be ready to publish it.

So, just because the DWP tells a government committee it will do something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it actually will do it.

Recording assessments wriggle room
And when you look at what the DWP actually said about recording, you can see that there is still wriggle room.

The DWP admitted that the current requirement for claimants to provide their own dual recording equipment was unsatisfactory and added:

“We agree that this does not go far enough to help build trust in the system and therefore we intend to make recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process. We are currently exploring potential options to test the recording of assessments, including video recording.”

So, at the moment the DWP are ‘exploring potential options to test’ different methods of recording. After that will come the actual tests. Then there will be a report on the results of the tests.

And only then will we know whether the DWP intend to pursue the idea or whether they decide that it is too costly, too technically difficult or, as they have with ESA, that it is something for which there is very little demand.

Even if they do go ahead, they have given no timescale whatsoever for when there will be a full roll-out of recording of medicals. Nor do we know if the system will apply to home assessments as well as assessment centres.

Simpler forms timetable
In regard to user friendly forms the process has a timetable, but it’s not a quick one.

Stage 1 will identify whether, how and what aspects of the ESA/PIP claim forms could have the potential to cause distress;

Stage 2 will involve revising and amending the forms in light of these findings, and;

Stage 3 will test the revised forms with applicants to determine if improvements made result in the forms being more claimant-friendly and less likely to cause distress.

This work will be independently evaluated. The first stage of this work will commence in summer 2018 with stages 2 and 3 following sequentially. A standalone report covering all three stages of the research will be published in 2019. We consider the above approach directly addresses the recommendation and demonstrates transparency.

So, if things go according to schedule it will be some time in 2019 before there is a report on how to change the forms, but no date for actually introducing the changes.

Happy to be wrong
Benefits and Work will be delighted to be proved wrong if the DWP speedily introduce recording of assessments. Until then, we’ll keep you informed of the DWP’s progress . . . or lack of it.

You can read the full response to the Work and Pensions Committee here.


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