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Local Citizens Advice offices from across Surrey had identified a problem with the appeals process for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) from client evidence. PIP is a benefit to support people of working age that suffer from long-term ill-health or disability.
Dealing with PIP-related issues is an increasingly important part of the work of Citizens Advice, particularly in Surrey Heath where we helped with 200 PIP applications, 52 Mandatory Reconsiderations and 67 Appeals last year alone.
Surrey Citizens Advice offices worked together to publish a report on failings within the PIP application process, in particular problems in the Mandatory Reconsideration process. This is where a PIP claimant has to request that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) reconsider its original decision on their claim before they are able to go to an appeals tribunal.
The stated aim of the Mandatory Reconsideration process is to resolve issues more quickly, but in reality many PIP claimants, appeal tribunal judges and several independent bodies like Citizens Advice Surrey Heath have long had doubts about the process. In our report we aimed to investigate how independent it really is, how well the process works, the quality of the DWP’s decision-making and the effect of the Mandatory Reconsideration process on our client’s lives.
The findings of our report show that the above doubts are backed up by the data. We found that, at the Mandatory Reconsideration stage of PIP, the DWP upheld 81% of decisions on new claims and 76% of decisions on reassessments, but when issues reached an appeal tribunal judges overturned 73% of DWP decisions. These figures indicate a significant issue in the decision-making of the DWP at the Mandatory Reconsideration stage.
Our report made five key findings:
And four key recommendations:
Overall, our findings are critical of the Mandatory Reconsideration process and the DWP’s handling of PIP claims more generally, to the point that we are asking for the Mandatory Reconsideration process to be completely overhauled.
Following the publication of our report we contacted various officials, both locally and nationally, to let them know our findings and lobby for changes to be made.
Citizens Advice Surrey Heath sent it to Michael Gove, the MP for Surrey Heath, alongside a more general letter on the harshness of PIP assessments. Mr Gove raised the issue with the then-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, who acknowledged that there was work to be done and said that significant effort was going into reviewing the Mandatory Reconsideration process. The combined advocacy efforts of the Citizens Advice offices that put together the report also resulted in the issue of PIP assessment and the Mandatory Reconsideration process being raised in the House of Lords.
Citizens Advice Surrey Heath welcomes the engagement of Mr Gove, Mrs Rudd and other government officials with our work and we are pleased to see that the concerns of our clients are being heard. We continue to advocate for changes to the benefits system to improve the lives of all claimants of all benefits, not just PIP.
Links to the report – ‘A Rubber Stamp? Mandatory Reconsideration in the Personal Independence Payment application process’