Some existing PIP claimants may lose their support group status and be transferred to the universal credit health element, where they may be required to carry out work-related activities, as early as 2026, Benefits and Work can reveal. This directly contradicts the claim by the government that current claimants would not be affected before 2029.
The government announced plans last month to axe the work capability assessment (WCA), which is currently used to decide if claimants should be placed in the limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group for UC or the support group for ESA.
Under the new plans, claimants who get any element of PIP and who claim UC will automatically be eligible for an additional health element with no need to undergo a separate assessment to decide their capability for work.
However, the new system will not automatically recognize any claimant as unable to carry out any work-related activities.
Instead, if you are receiving the UC health element you may be set both voluntary and mandatory work-related requirements by a work coach and you will be subject to sanctions if you don’t meet the mandatory requirements.
When the plans were announced, the government stated that current claimants would not begin being transferred to the new system until 2029 at the earliest.
Only new claimants were said to be affected initially, with the system being rolled out by geographical area between 2026 and 2029.
However, evidence given to the commons work and pensions committee last week by the DWP contradicted this claim.
Conservative MP Nigel Mills asked DWP representatives what the situation would be for existing PIP claimants who had a review assessment between 2026 and 2029:
“You have a long run-in for this. It will be 2029 before you are worried about people who are already in the system. What happens if I get a called for a new PIP assessment every couple of years and I get one of those in 2027? Does that drop me into the new rules or do I stay under the old ones?”
Katie Farrington, Director General for Disability, Health and Pensions at the DWP answered on behalf of the department:
“With the way we will roll this out, we start from 2026 with new claims only, but we will do it in a geographical, staged way. It would depend which area you were in in 2027. Yes, some people might come in under the new rules, and that means they would automatically get your UC health payment and would automatically get the support.”
Given that an increasing proportion of England and Wales, at least, will be moved onto the UC health element beginning in 2026, this would suggest that many thousands of existing PIP claimants who have a review of their award will find themselves being forced onto the UC health element earlier than 2029.
It will essentially be a lottery, with where you live and when you are reviewed deciding whether you are moved over to the new system early or not.
On a more hopeful note, Mel Stride Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told the committee that legislation would not even be put before the current parliament:
“This is not being rushed—far from it. A lot of people say that it is getting in early, and I am keen to do so, but it requires primary legislation that will go through the House in the next Parliament. As Katie says, it is then 2026 to 2029 for the new claimants before we get on to the stock of the existing claimants at that moment in time in 2029 onwards.”
Assuming that by “next Parliament” Stride means the next elected government rather than the next parliamentary session, then it will be up to whoever wins the election to decide if these changes go ahead.
However, with the rhetoric from the Labour Party often being similar to that of the Conservatives when it comes to benefits, there is no certainty that the plan will be axed even if there is a change in the ruling party after the next election.
It looks like campaigning against the proposals, by “the stock of the existing claimants” needs to start sooner rather than later.