Easier with a light touch

Review of personal independence payments are likely to become simpler and quicker this year, which could be good news for those with profound learning disabilities, says Charlie Callanan.

Claire Coutinho MP

Claire Coutinho MP said the aim was minimise the contact needed while checking for any change – Photo: David Woolfall

Almost all awards of personal independence payments (PIP) are subject to review.

However, the review process is due to get simpler and quicker for working-age people with permanent disabilities or long-term health conditions that are unlikely to change.

This light-touch process is already in place for claimants who have reached state pension age. The government is reviewing how it is done; it is expected that, under the light touch, people will not be expected to have a face-to-face assessment and confirmation of an ongoing award will be paper based.

It is likely that those with profound learning disabilities will be among those to benefit.

The government has said that light-touch reviews will be for claimants with very stable needs that are unlikely to change or high-level needs that will stay the same or get worse. This is likely to involve people with severe or progressive conditions requiring high levels of support.

Secretary of state for work and pensions Claire Coutinho said: “Our aim is to have the minimum necessary contact with the claimant to check whether anything has changed, adjust the award if needed, and ensure we hold up-to-date information.”

The process should be formalised this year; this is partly because people who were given 10-year awards of PIP (the maximum length) after it was introduced in 2013 will be due to have their benefit reviewed. Many of them are likely to be suitable cases for a light-touch review.

Clients who are not subject to the light-touch regime will continue to have to undergo the more complete review of their PIP.

How reviews works

A review usually starts 6-12 months before a benefit award is due to expire. However, a client may be contacted about a random review at any time, even if their award is for a fixed period.

The process normally involves completing the PIP AR1 form, “Award review – how your disability affects you”.

The form includes questions around each PIP activity and concerns what has changed regarding a person’s health or disability and the help or assistance they require with the activity.

It is recommended that claimants should not just write “no change” in replies. It is safer to explain what has changed (for better or worse) since their previous application or, if nothing is different, to repeat the difficulties that led to the award being granted.

If the client has a copy of their previous PIP award letter that gives the points they were awarded for each activity, this can make it easier to complete the form.

The client may have to attend an assessment with an independent health professional, as is common for a new PIP application.

The fact that the claimant has had an award of PIP before does not guarantee an award following a review. However, a claimant has a right to a review and to appeal against a decision.

In Scotland, there is a similar review process for PIP claimants and those getting the adult disability payment.

Light-touch reviews will be for those with very stable needs that are unlikely to change or high-level needs that will stay the same or get worse

Terminal illness rule

Another change means terminally ill people are more likely to get a guaranteed disability benefit earlier in their illness.

This change to fast-track disability benefit claims is expected to be effective from April.

It means that when the death of a claimant can reasonably be expected within 12 months (rather than the current six months), they will get the benefit straight away, without needing an assessment. Instead, their GP or hospital consultant can confirm the prognosis.

The claimant will be guaranteed an award of PIP daily living component at the enhanced rate, or the disability living allowance care component at the highest rate, or the higher rate of attendance allowance. Entitlement to the mobility component of PIP and DLA will be determined separately.

There are some differences in how the rules are applied in Scotland.