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DWP panned for poor Personal Independence Payment performance

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DWP panned for poor Personal Independence Payment performance

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Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Housing

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The National Audit Office, which scrutinises public spending for parliament, has blasted the Department for Work and Pensions over its flawed handling of the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The NAO report also said savings will be £140 million LESS than the DWP thought and that early mistakes have potentially jeopardised the programme's longer-term value for money. However, the NAO said it was too early to pronounce on the overall success or failure of PIP, which is a non means-tested benefit to support disabled people with their daily living and mobility costs.

It replaces Disability Living Allowance for working age people and aims to match support more closely to claimants’ needs. By 25 October 2013, 166,000 people had started new claims for PIP.

According to the spending watchdog, the DWP (headed by Iain Duncan Smith - photo) "used a phased roll-out to reduce the risks in the programme but left little time to test whether it could handle a large volume of claims".

The result was inevitable. "When the assessment process took longer than expected, backlogs soon developed; by 25 October 2013, the department had made only 16% of the number of decisions it had expected," the NAO said.

Just as bad, "claimants are experiencing long delays to benefit decisions, and the department is not able to tell them how long they are likely to wait, potentially creating distress and financial difficulties. By October 2013, there were 92,000 people whose claims were outstanding with assessment providers - Atos Healthcare and Capita Health and Wellbeing – almost three times the number expected by the department at this stage."

In response to NAO concerns about the readiness of providers to deal with a further expansion of claims from October 2013, the DWP postponed the reassessment of many existing Disability Living Allowance claims. In a late decision, the DWP announced on 21 October 2013 that "natural" reassessments would not be rolled out nationally from 28 October as planned, but would be phased in by postcode area based on the department's assessment of the capacity of both assessment providers.

On the plus side for the DWP, "today’s report highlights that the department introduced Personal Independence Payment despite its compressed timescale and has learnt from past experience in the way it manages contracted assessment providers. However, to achieve value for money, the department will need to show that it can reduce delays for claimants and deliver planned savings while maintaining the quality of its decisions."

On the negative side, "today’s report finds that, in the current Spending Review period to April 2015, the department will not achieve the savings it originally expected. Because of the revised timetable for reassessments, savings during this period will fall from £780 million to £640 million. The department, however, still expects to achieve long term savings of £3 billion annually by 2018-19."

Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the DWP should set out a clear plan for informing claimants about the likely delays they will experience while it works with providers to improve performance. 

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "It is too early to conclude on the Personal Independence Payment programme’s overall success and all major programmes run the risk of early operational problems. However the department did not allow enough time to test whether the assessment process could handle large numbers of claims.

"As a result of this poor early operational performance, claimants face long and uncertain delays and the department has had to delay the wider roll-out of the programme. Because it may take some time to resolve the delays, the department has increased the risk that the programme will not deliver value for money in the longer term.”

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