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The latest Personal Independence Payments (PIP) statistics for August to October 2020 have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), showcasing trends of people claiming the disability benefit during the coronavirus pandemic.

These new figures cover both new claims and claims made by those with an existing claim for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) (known as reassessments). From the 8th of April 2013, the DWP started to replace DLA for working-age people with PIP.

PIP helps with some of the extra costs caused by a long-term disability, ill-health or terminal ill-health. The finances could be used to purchase essential mobility equipment for people with long-term conditions, facilitate vital home adaptations or help cover the costs of a carer.

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DWP’s quarterly PIP figures cover the customer journey from registration through to payment, providing key data on PIP registrations, clearances, awards and mandatory reconsiderations.

A mandatory reconsideration (MR) is where claimants who wish to dispute a decision on their PIP claim at any stage ask DWP to reconsider the decision.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the UK Government decided to suspend all face-to-face disability assessments, including for PIP, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus (LINK) and protect vulnerable individuals. At this time, new and existing claimants either carried out telephone or paper-based assessments to ensure they could still access PIP.

In July, some review and reassessment activity began gradually resuming (LINK), but DWP says the latest PIP figures reflect the continued distortions to trends in clearances, clearance times and awards caused by the pandemic.

In October 2020, DWP reports there has been a gradual increase in new PIP claims as parts of the process have recovered, with 57,000 registrations for new claims (12 percent higher than the previous years). There have also been 8,200 changes of circumstances.

However, MR registrations remain low at 17,000, which is around half of the level of the year earlier (52 percent). This shows that less disabled people have appealed against DWP’s decision during the pandemic, perhaps suggesting that more people are happy with the department’s PIP decision or that the PIP award process is now fairer.

The PIP assessment process has been criticised heavily in the past for being too harsh on disabled people.

For instance, the BBC revealed in an FOI request that one in two people who appealed in court over the last five years against a decision to deny them disability benefits was successful. It was suggested that this high success rate at tribunal is down to poor assessments carried out by health professionals.

In 2018, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee said failings in disability benefits assessments had led to a “pervasive lack of trust” in the system.

Since then, the government has been forced to take action to address claimants’ struggles, which has led to changes to the PIP system such as scrapping reviews for those with severe or long-term conditions as well as for nearly 300,000 disabled pensioners.

By the end of October 2020, the figures also show that for working age claimants, 75 percent of those who registered received an award and 29 percent of the cases registered were awarded PIP at the highest rate (enhanced daily living and enhanced mobility components).

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