The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is planning to bring its disability benefits assessments onto a single digital platform.
It has announced that it will develop and run the platform to replace the different IT systems used for personal independence payments (PIP) and the work capability assessments (WCA) in employment support allowance and universal credit.
It said the new system will be developed from next year, launched in a region “to be confirmed in due course”, and that it should ensure that claimants do not have to provide the same information more than once.
Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: “We are committed to providing the best possible support for people with a disability. That’s why we have listened to feedback from both charities and claimants to bring all assessments under one roof.
“It’s important we get this right, which is why we’ll trial the new service on a regional scale before rolling it out nationally.
“These changes show that we are moving in the right direction and the planned green paper will go further as we continue to improve the experience for people with long term health conditions and disabilities.”
Tomlinson told Parliament that the new system will give DWP the scope to explore changes in how it carries out the assessments, including more effective triage, developing better face-to-face assessments and ensuring claimants are aware of the support available.
He said the department will issue two prior information notices for the delivery of PIP and WCA assessments from 1 August 2021. The new system will be used in a “transformation area” from autumn of next year and operate alongside these contracts.
The announcement prompted a cautious response from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Its head of social change Sarah Lambert said bringing assessments together looks good at face value.
But she warned: "It’s important to remember that assessments for different types of benefits are looking at different things. The feasibility of bringing them together must be genuinely and fully considered as part of this pilot, in full consultation with disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people.
“We support many people with sight loss who tell us on a daily basis that they feel that they are ‘put on trial’ when they go through the benefits process, and we know that assessments frequently get things wrong. Over 96% of cases we take at appeal for PIP are successful.
"Therefore, we want to feel assured that any new system is more accurate and fit for purpose, so that the risk of one assessment going wrong wouldn’t mean the loss of all of someone’s benefits."
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