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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published its latest quarterly Personal Independence Payment (PIP) statistics up until July 2020, which reveal the disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has caused on claimants’ activity.

These statistics 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 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.

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 (MR).

In March 2020, the UK Government suspended all face-to-face assessments and reassessments for disability benefits, including for PIP. The idea behind this was to prevent transmission of the virus and protect disabled and ill people, who are likely to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill if they catch COVID-19, from infection.

Instead, new disability benefits claims would be carried out via telephone or paper-based assessments, where appropriate, to ensure disabled people could still access the support they needed via PIP.

However, from the end of July 2020, some review and reassessment activity began gradually resuming.

Figures for May to July 2020 continue to reflect the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, says DWP, which have impacted the activity of claimants and led to changes in operational procedures to process claims in order to reduce the risk to claimants and ensure those eligible receive their benefit.

According to DWP, activity initiated by customers has gradually recovered in some parts of the process with registrations for new claims and changes of circumstances increasing, though registrations for MRs remain low.

In July 2020 there were 45,000 registrations for new claims (eight percent lower than the level a year earlier), 7,300 changes of circumstances (two percent higher than the level a year earlier) and 15,000 MR registrations, the lowest number since September 2015.

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.

In addition, the recent figures reveal that from April 2013 until July 2020 5.1 million claims to PIP have been cleared, with just over four out of ten normal rules new claims, just over seven out of ten normal rules DLA reassessment claims, and 99 percent of special rules claims for terminally ill people receiving an award.

Importantly, the proportion of MR decisions resulting in a change in award fell by 37 percent between May-July 2020, meaning more disabled people have not received PIP after asking for a reconsideration.

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.

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