Exclusive: Success rate for claiming disability benefit falls a quarter in just one year

  • Dramatic fall in success rate among new applicants for Personal Independence Payment
  • Government denies there is any trend and insists no new restrictions have been imposed
  • Row over cuts to benefit led to resignation of Iain Duncan Smith this month
  • Terminally ill dad recently had benefit application refused after he hugged his daughter

By Chaminda Jayanetti

The success rate of new applicants for a key disability benefit has fallen by a quarter in the last year, and by more than 40 percent in two years, according to government figures.

The news comes after Budget proposals to restrict who can claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) sank amidst a storm of protests by disability campaigners and rebellious Tory MPs, even leading to the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

PIP helps with the extra costs caused by long term illness and disability, and is available to people both in and out of work at up to £7,280 per year.

The government introduced PIP to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit, and many DLA claimants are now being reassessed for PIP. But for both new applicants and those looking to transfer over from DLA, the chances of being accepted onto PIP are diminishing.

In early 2014 the percentage of new applicants for PIP who succeeded with their claims was in the mid-60s, excluding those with terminal illnesses and those who withdrew their claims.

This success rate – or “award rate” – declined to around 53 percent for much of late 2014 and early 2015, before falling again to 40 percent and now below even that (data in workbooks 3A and 3B in this spreadsheet and on the graph below).

The total number of people receiving PIP has increased hugely in that time, partly due to people transferring from the DLA benefit that PIP replaced.

But it means that someone making a new claim for PIP has 25 percent less chance of receiving the benefit than they would have had a year ago, and more than 40 percent less chance than they would have had two years ago in early 2014.

Meanwhile, the percentage of DLA claimants who successfully apply for PIP has also declined, from 79 percent throughout the second half of 2014 to 70 percent in January 2016. Most of the fall came in the first half of 2015.

The replacement of DLA with PIP was one of the most controversial elements of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The criteria to receive PIP was tightened for certain conditions when it was introduced in 2013, making it harder to claim the new benefit than DLA, particularly at an enhanced level for mobility problems.

The government had expected to spend 20 percent less on PIP than it had on DLA – indeed, this was one of the reasons disability campaigners were opposed to it. But the forecast savings have not materialised. In fact, it was government concern over the number of people being awarded PIP that led to the proposed cuts that sparked Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Changing caseloads

PIP was introduced in April 2013, but had relatively few claimants until the total “caseload” reached 100,000 claimants in August 2014 before shooting past the 300,000 mark in January the following year.

A large proportion of the early claimants were people with malignant diseases, who often had very serious conditions and whose applications were being fast-tracked. But by early 2015 they constituted a far smaller slice of the total PIP claimant count, with people with psychiatric or musculoskeletal conditions making up much larger shares instead.

This front-loading of applicants with serious malignant conditions might explain the fall in the PIP award rate during 2014 – but most of those applicants will have been terminally ill, and therefore excluded from the figures in question (almost all terminally ill applicants are accepted, under separate rules).

Moreover, whilst the make-up of the PIP caseload changed in this way between early 2014 and early 2015, there has been hardly any change since then – the percentage of claimants with each type of condition has barely shifted in the last year. So the 25 percent fall in the success rate of PIP applicants over the last year can’t be explained that way.

Pulling up the drawbridge?

The assessments for PIP are carried out by one of two private companies hired by the government, Atos and Capita, depending on where the applicant lives. Atos became notorious for its role in assessing – and often refusing – applications for the other major disability benefit, the Employment and Support Allowance. However, the rules and criteria of the assessments are set by the government.

Linda Burnip, from campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said she did not know what was behind the falling success rate, but added that she had noticed a recent growth in reports of unfairly rejected applications:

“It is literally in the last three or four months that we’ve had complaints, I don’t think we had any before then. It’s been the last three or four months that there’s been newspaper reports about people not getting PIP.”

Last week The Mirror reported the case of a terminally ill father whose PIP application was rejected after he hugged his young daughter during his assessment.

Burnip also queried the standard of the PIP assessments being carried out by Atos and Capita on behalf of the government: “We get a lot of emails from people saying that all their medical evidence was totally ignored, so it could be the standard of the assessors.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions denied there was any trend in the award rate, saying that the figures were moving up and down every month. She told Sentinel News there were no targets for the numbers of people awarded PIP, and that the model and criteria for assessing applicants had not changed.

The DWP spokesperson also said that the high proportion of claimants with malignant diseases in the first year of PIP did not explain the higher success rates in early 2014. She said: “PIP is helping nearly 700,000 people to lead independent lives and over 22% of claimants receive the highest possible amount under PIP, compared to 15% under DLA.

“Decisions on eligibility for PIP are made after consideration of all the evidence, including an assessment and information provided by the claimant and their GP.”

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