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Personal Independence Payment: The North West guinea pigs

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Since 8th April 2013 the North West has begun trialling the new benefit known as Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

But what is PIP and how will it affect people? Firstly, we need to cast our minds back to 5th December 2012, when George Osborne delivered in his autumn statement the need to save a further £6.6 billion from the welfare bill. There has already been a wide range of changes to the benefit system including the introduction of Universal Credit from 29th April 2013, the localisation of Council Tax Support and the introduction of the now infamous ‘bedroom tax.’

However, it is the implementation of PIP which now hogs the limelight as legal action has been taken in the High Court. Claimants have sought action as to whether the stringent mobility tests are legally challengeable.

PIP is intended to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and is aimed to help towards the extra costs of having a long-term health condition or disability. It can be paid to anybody who meets the conditions regardless of their income, savings or the amount of National Insurance Contributions they have paid over the years. Awards will be made when a health condition or disability has the required degree of impact on ability to take part in everyday life. It will be made up of a daily living component and a mobility component.

The Government has wisely decided to trial certain areas and the North West has been selected as a pilot area.

Since 8th April, there can no longer be any new claims for DLA within the pilot areas and they will need to claim PIP. The Government then aims to introduce this across the country from 10th June 2013. After that, there will then be a push to move some existing claimants on DLA from 7th October 2013 if one of the following applies: a child is approaching 16, the existing DLA claim is coming to an end or there is a reported change of circumstance. From 2015, those still on DLA will randomly be selected to claim the new benefit with the aim that everybody will have moved to PIP by 2018.

It is important to note that from 8th April 2013, those turning 65 will be given priority to claim DLA. A notification letter is sent out to claim PIP and if no claim has been received within 28 days, then the DLA claim will be suspended. A reminder notification is sent out again and if no claim form has been returned, then the DLA claim will automatically be terminated. Therefore to remain on benefit, it is extremely important that claimants must open their post and act quickly.

The difference between PIP and DLA is that claimants will be expected to attend a medical assessment before a decision is made. There are still some defences which can be put to the DWP when it is not feasible for someone to attend these medicals but there are no rights of appeal if the DWP insists on a medical assessment.

Once someone appeals against a decision, they will automatically be sent for a medical assessment. Therefore, there will be some instances when a claimant will be assessed once and some where they are assessed twice.

It is envisaged that there will be a lot less successful claimants for PIP than DLA which fits into the Governments aim of cutting the welfare bill. However, it is important to remember that any cuts in benefit payment will mean that people will have less money to live on and spend. In terms of the local economy, if people have less money to spend, then local businesses will ultimately fail resulting in higher unemployment. Therefore the Government’s drive to move people off benefits into employment appears to be a vicious circle that we are ultimately stuck in unless changes are made to the welfare reform plans.

By welfare solicitor, Ngaryan Li