I spoke today in the debate on improvements to disability assessment services. I have been concerned, along with many colleagues in the House, that there were issues with the assessment process and a lack of flexibility and common sense.
However, with recent changes the system seems very close to being properly fair and effective. I am anxious to see the improved repayment period for advances brought forward from 2021, and I stressed to the Minister the importance of ongoing improvement of the universal credit system as we move forward with it. I will continue to press for these improvements.
Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock)
I thank the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) for securing this debate. As MPs, we have all handled cases where errors have been made with disability assessments; that was the case before the introduction of universal credit and the personal independence payment. Sadly, no doubt it will continue to be the case as the system is further refined and improved. I do not say that to lessen the impact of the distressing cases we have all assisted with or read about, but to illustrate that individual mistakes do not alone indicate a fundamentally flawed system, just that the system has to improve.
I certainly had concerns previously that there was a lack of common sense and flexibility in the assessment process for those with longer-term disabilities. I know many in this House felt the same. Health conditions can change and hopefully improve over time, so there will always be a need for occasional assessments to establish the correct level of support, but one must recognise that for some conditions sadly there is no improvement or recovery. However, I am pleased that of late there has been a greater focus on flexibility in the assessment process, whereby those with the most serious conditions can now have their evidence reviewed by a DWP case manager without the need for a face-to-face and repeated assessment. I very much welcome that change.
In addition, there is the security of an advance on the first payment for those who are not in a position to wait until the first payment comes through. This can be claimed on the first day and, after concerns were raised in this House, the repayment period is to be extended from twelve to sixteen months. This, however, is only to take effect from October 2021, and I would welcome discussion on bringing it forward. I am certain such a move would be applauded.
The help to claim service in tandem with Citizens Advice, which was mentioned earlier, is free to the user and is to be launched next month. It is designed to help the most vulnerable claimants with their applications, whether through a home visit, over the telephone or online. It will assist universal credit claimants with their award until the first accurate full payment is received. I very much welcome the Government’s recent improvements to the PIP process and the measured approach with which the universal credit system itself is being implemented nationally. However, there is no room for complacency. I hope the Minister and the Department will develop a policy of continuous improvement, ensuring that client trust is established - particularly with clients with a disability.