DWP does not record why claimant ‘commitments’ aren’t accepted

Parliamentary questions also reveal contracted “health assessors” are subject to independent – not departmental – audit.

 

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A Parliamentary question has confirmed the DWP does not hold information on the reasons why a claimant commitment is or is not accepted.

It has also emerged that DWP’s contracted ‘health assessors’, whose decisions are often reviewed or appealed successfully, are subject to independent audit – with feedback going to the provider.

Answering Labour’s Emma Dent Coad, DWP minister Alok Sharma said the “reasonable requirements” in a Claimant Commitment are based on the appropriate conditionality group for the claimant, with the Work Coach is able to tailor the requirements to include adjustments or easements for personal circumstances.

“If a claimant and their Work Coach are unable to agree on the reasonable requirements in their claimant commitment, they can request another Work Coach to review this,” Sharma said.

Dent Coad had asked what information the DWP holds on the proportion of employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, and Universal Credit claimants who have either accepted or not accepted that their personal circumstances have been taken into account during the decision on their commitments.

As part of the process of making a claim, all JSA (including New Style), New Style ESA and Universal Credit claimants discuss and agree a claimant commitment statement as part of the conditions of their claim.

It has also emerged that DWP’s contracted ‘health assessors’ are subject to independent audit rather than departmental audit – with feedback going to the provider.

Labour’s Dr David Drew had asked what steps are taken to monitor and review the performance of health assessors whose decisions are often reviewed or appealed successfully.

Replying, DWP minister Justin Tomlinson stressed that these ‘health professionals’ are not responsible for the benefit decision, which remained within the Department’s authority.

“We continue to work extensively with providers to make improvements to guidance, training and supplier audit procedures, in order to ensure the quality of the services is continuously improved,” said Tomlinson.

“All elements of the providers’ performance are monitored, including the requirements for the quality of assessments, which are assessed through independent audit, with feedback provided to the provider.”

Drew followed up to ask what proportion of personal independence payment assessment decisions were appealed in 2017-18.

Tomlinson said of the 715,800 initial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) decisions made in 2017-18 where an assessment was completed, 10% have been appealed.

Labour’s Stephanie Peacock asked for the mean average wait for a mandatory reconsideration after a PIP assessment nationally in each of the last 12 months.

DWP figures revealed the rate of median clearance times rose from 29 days in February last year to 54 in January this year.

That rise is relatively steady moving through the intervening months, with a slight dip from 34 in May to 33 in June and staying steady on 32 in July and August.

The biggest jump was to 54 in January from 45 in December.

Tomlinson stressed that this data was unpublished and should be “used with caution” ahead of any future revision.

He conceded to an increase in outstanding PIP MR clearance times in recent months – most notably the 54 days in January this year – but referenced measures to reduce the number of outstanding MRs, including:

  • Age profiles of outstanding work to ensure that cases which have been outstanding for longest are actioned first
  • Regular review of resource levels dedicated to the clearance of MRs with related significant recruitment, training and redeployment undertaken

“MR is a key element of the decision making process for both the Department and claimants, and whilst ensuring they make quality decisions, decision makers work hard to clear applications without delay, said Tomlinson.

“Gathering the right evidence is critical at the MR stage if decisions are not to go to appeal; and we are reviewing our processes to not only obtain this, but to do so whilst continuing to make decisions timeously.”

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