Despite promises not to announce any new cuts during this Parliament , following a big PIP points row in March 2016, the Government are at it again. They have adjusted – or clarified – depending on your point of view, the points system used in assessing Personal Independence Payment (PIP) .
Learning from last time, the change has been sneaked through in a rush and without the usual statutory consultation procedure . The aim was to over rule recent Court judgements , presumably because just appealing against them was judged unlikely to succeed based on any test of reasonableness. The changes make it crystal clear that they want to really limit difficulties around medication and to directly discriminate against those whose PIP Mobility difficulties are caused by mental distress.
PIP is a vital benefit for so many , as was Disability Living Allowance (DLA) before. For so many it makes the difference between “living and merely existing” . PIP is always paid on top of any other income, is not affected by any other income, savings or National Insurance contributions, is ignored in the sums for means tested benefits and can also trigger increases in those and other benefits.
When the PIP points system saw the light of day we were told not to worry that several of the common difficulties we were used to describing on DLA forms did not make it on to the PIP points grid – which you can download – see below.
The grid was carefully worked out – with the involvement of disability charities – with two key principles in mind:
- to offer a more level playing field for all health conditions and disability to enable those having sufficient places where they can score PIP points in a fairer way.
- And as with DLA before , the issue is the extent of the day to day difficulties you face and not the underlying cause or diagnosis .
1. So Whats’ occurring?
The amended point system applies to all new PIP claims made on or after the 17th March 2017. Existing awards or claims made before the change are not affected. Nor are those made before 17th March but still being assessed or under appeal. However come renewal time, or if you apply to have your PIP claim looked at afresh before it is due to end – then the amended system applies. You can see the BBC News story around this here
You may remember, that there was quite a kerfuffle the last time this was tried, back in March 2016. The row then was a change aimed at those with physical difficulties and was about changing the way aids and adaptions was scored. announced within the more open Parliamentary process of the Budget. It resulted in: the resignation of the long serving Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith and a “U-turn” on the policy. Another BBC News piece at the time is available here
This was followed by a clear commitment that there would be no new disability cuts to be announced this Parliament, reinforced and extended to all benefits by the new Theresa May Government.
But less than a year on, the urge to scratch at PIP has returned. This time the focus is on just two of the 12 PIP Activities and the target is very people living with mental health difficulties as the target. However, the Government says this is not a new change but a clarification of what was always intended, in the wake of two binding legal judgements.
But they said very much the same last time too … Is it a change or not? Is it a cut? All depends on your point of view 🙂 But the DWP estimate that if the old system – with the legal rulings in place – were not changed there would be additional spending of £3,700 million by 2020. New cut or not, the upshot is less money for those claiming PIP.
2. Which parts of the PIP assessment are affected?
The changes are focused on just two of the twelve PIP activities, both of which could be very relevant to people affected by mental distress.
A handy PIP Descriptors and Definitions Chart
You can download a chart of the PIP points system that works both for claims started before and – with the changes highlighted – those started after the 17th March 2017 . The previous single-sided points table now also has a chart of the DWP Definitions – that were also amended – on the back , together with a reminder about Reliability and Variability.
The idea is to offer a useful easy reference tool to have by your side when filling in a PIP2 How Your Difficulty Affects You? form or when working out how to challenge a PIP decision. And it is one that will be good whatever your health conditions or disabilities.
Activity 3: Monitoring a health condition and managing therapy
Here, the Government is clarifying / changing the test to say that help with medication is totally separate from help to manage therapy.
This will mean that no matter how critical or complicated your medication regime happens to be, any help will be confined to scoring an almost useless 1 point under descriptor 3b.
It’s almost useless, because scoring a single grudging point for what might be a considerable part of day to day difficulties – usually can’t affect your overall PIP score. And that’s whether its because of issues around medication or all that is left of DLA’s recognition of needs for general supervison against the risk of harm to self or others. If it was 2 points – not alot for what could be major difficulty in someone’s daily life – then at least it might help. As just 1 point it only really helps in combination with Descriptor 4 e on the chart .
The Court ruling has accepted – and this still applies if the unchanged points descriptor applies to your PIP claim – that help with medication could combine with any other therapies and depending on the total weekly time needed, could score you anything between 2 to 8 points within Activity 3.
Activity 11: Planning and following a journey
This is one of the just two activities for PIP Mobility, the other being physically walking at Activity 12. Often issues of concentration, anxiety , low mood, appropriate behaviour, fight or flight responses or confidence can get in the way of managing to get from A to B, especially in unfamiliar or busy places or sorting out times, fares and enclosed spaces on public transport.
You may physically walk OK, but really need help to plan and follow a journey which is where Activity 11 comes in, looking not unlike the criteria for the old DLA Lower Mobility
The change here is to make what was previously a slightly hidden, nudge, nudge , wink wink discrimination against people with mental health issues to now be an absolutely crystal clear one.
Right from the start of PIP, there were two seemingly unnecessary separate scores for those facing “psychological distress” :
- if you need prompting to undertake any journey because of “overwhelming psychological distress” you get 4 points at Descriptor 11b – which on its own own gets you no PIP Mobility.
- If it’s so bad that you just can’t go out at all, then you get 10 points at Descriptor 11e and the standard rate of PIP Mobility (equivalent to the old DLA Lower Mobility).
On the face of it, there was no clear reason why the other more general descriptors within Activity 11 couldn’t also be used to more sensibly explore your limitations caused mental distress, just as as much as difficulties from any other cause, such as learning difficulty, sensory impairment. Under these quite suitable for all comers descriptors:
- if you find it difficult to plan the route of a journey -see Descriptor 11c – or to get out in unfamiliar places without company – see Descriptor 11d – you could get enough points for PIP Mobility at the standard rate ( in the same way as DLA Lower Care)
- and if you needed company to go out in even familiar places you would get 12 points at Descriptor 11f for the enhanced rate.
There was nothing to forbid these criteria being applied when eg the difficulties in an unfamiliar place were caused by mental health issues, just some strong guidance and hints not to.
” Those 4 points from 11b are all very interesting but what about the difficulties generally planning and following a journey” said Advisers .
” Hmm…well we shouldn’t and perhaps only some of them…but fair point. Lets be reasonable”, said the Courts .
“No way we know not of these strange words that you speak !” said the DWP…
The amendment makes it very clear that PIP Mobility does discriminate people with mental health issues, even if the difficulties they face in planning and following a journey are directly comparable with anyone else. From 17th March you simply are not allowed to have those difficulties counted and Descriptors 11c, 11d and 11f are closed off to you. You are just left with the much more extreme sounding – yet lower scoring Descriptors 11b and 11e on the chart.
The challenge to getting or keeping Mobility will be to link up to any physical walking difficulties under Activity 12. Or if you can point to any other causes than mental distress to get you back into the mainstream under Activity 11.
The Government are hoping you can’t as they have relying on – now much more blatant – discrimination to get some 700,000 people off DLA Lower Mobility in the switch-over from DLA to PIP.
For more details – and arguments you can use – about these PIP Activities under both the old and amended systems, please see the forthcoming Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2017 / 18