7 December 2010

The DWP have confirmed that disability living allowance (DLA) is to be abolished and replaced by a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013/14. 

The decision was detailed in a consultation document ‘Disability Living Allowance Reform’  published on 6th December.  The document makes it clear that it is not a consultation about whether to abolish DLA and replace it with PIP – that decision and much else has already been made, or is still being worked on, by a secret group of ‘independent specialists in health, social care and disability’ – but only in relation to secondary legislation about the details of how the new system will work.

What’s staying the same
Many aspects of Pip are the same, or similar, to DLA.

For example, PIP will have two components, a mobility and a daily living component.

It won’t be means-tested or taxed and won’t depend on national insurance contributions.

You can claim in or out of work.

It will be a cash payment.

It will be payable to children and adults who claim before they reach 65 and can continue in payment beyond that age.

There will still be ‘special rules’ claims for people who are terminally ill.

Motability will still be ‘supported’ under PIP.

What’s changing
You will need to show that you have met the criteria for six months and are likely to meet them for a further six months before payment can be made.  For DLA the qualifying period is three months in the past and six months in the future.

There will be no more automatic entitlement for specific conditions or impairments, such as double amputees or people who are both deaf and blind.  This means that the long fought for automatic entitlement to higher rate mobility for severely visually impaired people, agreed in March 2009 and due to come into force in April 2011, will be very short-lived indeed.

There will only be two rates for the daily living component, compared to the three rates for the care component of DLA.  The PIP mobility component will have two rates as well.

There will be new criteria for qualifying for the mobility and daily living component.  According to the consultation document, the activities that are likely to be considered when assessing eligibility will include:

Getting around
Interacting with others
Managing personal care and treatment needs
Accessing food and drink

The document goes on to add that “Activities we could assess could include, for example, planning and making a journey, and understanding and communicating with others.”

There will be a new assessment system with ‘greater emphasis on objectivity and increased use of evidence’.  Most people will have to have a face-to-face assessment with an Atos health professional.  This seems likely to be an assessment on very similar lines to the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance, quite probably with some of the activities overlapping so that one medical will cover both benefits for some claimants.

More account will be taken of aids and adaptations.  The document gives the example of considering an individual’s ability to get about in a wheelchair rather than just their ability to walk. 

There will be a periodic review of all PIP awards, unlike the current DLA system which allows for indefinite awards with spot checks on just a small proportion.

What’s undecided
The coalition haven’t yet decided whether to apply some or all of the new system to children aged under 16.

They also haven’t decided whether the age limit for initial claims for PIP should rise in line with the increase in the state pension age once it is the same for men and women in 2018.

The coalition says it recognises the importance of DLA as a passport to things such as Warm Front grants and the Blue Badge scheme and that they will take this into account when designing PIP.  Worryingly, however, the document says that the current system of premiums linked to DLA is complex and confusing and ‘consideration is being given to what, if any, extra support may be needed for disabled people in universal credit.’

Overlap between PIP and ESA
The consultation paper points out that ‘people may undergo many different assessments’ for disability support, such as the assessment for ESA, and that the DWP will explore ‘whether it is possible to share information from other assessments and eliminate areas of overlap’

It seems very possible then, that the PIP assessment activities are being designed to fit, at least in part, with the new, harsher work capability assessment for ESA due to be introduced at the end of March 2011..

The higher rate of the mobility or ‘Getting around’ component of PIP, for example, may closely match the activity in the new WCA of ‘Mobilising unaided by another person with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid if such aid can reasonably be used.’ 

People who cannot ‘mobilise’ more than 50 metres are eligible for the support group of ESA and this could form the basis of the PIP higher rate mobility component.  This is especially the case given the suggestion in the consultation document that the ability to use aids and adaptations such as wheelchairs should be taken into account  for PIP.

The lower rate of the PIP activity of ‘Getting around’ could very well overlap with the WCA cognitive and intellectual activity of  ‘Getting about’.

The PIP activity of ‘Understanding and communicating with others’ could relate very closely to two activities in the new WCA:  ‘Making self understood through speaking, writing, typing, or other means normally used.’ and ‘Understanding communication by both verbal means (such as hearing or lip reading) and non-verbal means (such as reading 16 point print) using any aid it is reasonable to expect them to use; unaided by another person.’

Another PIP activity, ‘Interacting with others’, may be assessed using the WCA activities of ‘Coping with social engagement due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder’ and ‘Appropriateness of behaviour with other people, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder’.

Accessing food and drink under PIP might well relate to the support group activities of  ‘Conveying food or drink to the mouth’ and ‘Chewing or swallowing food or drink.’

The temptation to save costs by making the ESA and PIP criteria overlap, so that one medical covers two benefits in many cases, is one that we suspect the current coalition will find irresistible.

Who is most likely to lose out
We know that the aim of the coalition is to cut the cost of DLA by at least 20% through these ‘reforms’.  So who are most likely to be the losers when all current working age DLA claimants are forced to be reassessed starting in 2013/14?

With the daily living component being reduced to two rates, it seems likely that many people who receive the lower rate of the care component will be at risk.  This is strongly hinted at in the consultation document, which points out that it was originally estimated that the introduction of lower rate care would help 140,000 people but it is now received by 880,000 people

As we have already seen, it is also entirely possible that people who are unable to walk but who can use a manual wheelchair will lose their higher rate mobility.

Further than that, it is hard to even guess at who may lose out at this stage.  All we can be certain of is that hundreds of thousands of current DLA claimants will be the losers.

The consultation on this massive change to benefits for disabled people runs for a derisory 10 weeks, including Christmas and New Year.

You can download a copy of the consultation document from this link.


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