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Last Friday the Government decided to rush through some changes to the points system used in determining who is entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
PIP is an important extra benefit applying to many people aged 64 or under. The equivalent benefit fr new claims from those aged 65 or over - Attendance Allowance - is not affected.
1. Whats' occurring?
These will apply to all new PIP claims made on or after the 17th March 2017. Existing awards or claims made before the change but still being assessed will not be affected. You can see the 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 when this was done within the more open Parliamentary process of the Budget resulted in: the resignation of the long serving Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian 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 byto all benefits by the new Minister.
But less than a year on, the urge to scratch at PIP has returned:-) 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 it was a similar argument - about different aspects of the test - that lay behind the plans advanced last March...
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, this does mean less money for those claiming PIP.
2. Which parts of the PIP assessment are affected?
The changes is focused on just two of the twelve PIP activities, both of which could be relevant to people affected by cancer.
You can dowload a chart of the current pre-change points system from the page here .
This will be joined shortly by a revised version after the changes from 17th March. Both versions will continue to be relevant for a while, as which one applies to you will depend on whether your claim started before 17th March 2017 or not.
2.1 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 will be any help will be confined to scoring an almost useless 1 point under descriptor 3b.
Almost useless as in almost all cases getting a single point - be that for managing medication, monitoring your medical condition or all that is left of the old idea of general supervision against risk or danger - won't actually make any difference to your PIP entitlement. If it were 2 points then at least it could help.
The court ruling means that if you are under the old system help with medication could ad in with other therapies and based on time needed, score you from 2 to 8 points in Activity 3.
2.2 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, confidence can get in the way of managing to get from A to B especially in unfamiliar places or using public transport.
Chronic fatigue or breathlessnes may also play a part under Activity 12, but the distances are quite small so scores under Activity 11 may be a major part.
The change here is to make the potential and covert discrimination against those whose difficulties stem from mental distress issues much more overt.
There have always been seemingly unecessary separate scores for mental health issues - if you would need prompting to undertake any journey because of "overwhelming psychological distress" you get 4 points at 11b - which on their 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 11e and the standard rate.
On the face of it, there was no clear reason why the other more general descriptors within Activity 11 couldn't be used to more sensibly explore different levels of limitation caused by mental distress as much as from any other cause, There by contrast:
- if you find it difficult to plan the route -at 11c or get out in unfamiliar places without company 11d you could get standard rate
- and if you needed company to go out in even familiar places you would get 12 points at 11f for the enhanced rate.
There was nothing to forbid these criteria being applied, just some strong guidance and hints not to. A sense of reasonableness and fair play seems to have broken out among assessors, decision makers and judges alike who have been willing to measure difficulties caused by mental health against both criteria.
The amendment makes it clear that the intention is to discriminate against those affected by mental health who are to be barred from the mainstream 11c,d and f. and restricted to the much less helpful 11b and e.
The challenge then for claims from people affected by cancer is to focus on the cognitive impacts of confusion and concentration linked to eg chemo brain. Any issues around the real mental health and emotional impacts e.g feeling too low or anxious to attempt a journey may count for far less.
3. I'm already on PIP will it affect me?
Any existing claim will not be looked at again under the new points system and any claims made before the 17th March should be assesed under the old test, as will any appeals against the decisions in PIP claims from before the 17th.
Any new claims after the 17th - and that includes any renewal of your current award should you still be having extra difficulties at that point - will be under the new clearer/tougher criteria
Please post any general thoughts or queries below and join this conversation.
But also please feel free to message me privately about any specific issues in relation to PIP or any other benefits, or if you just want to know what benefits you ight be able to claim in the first place :-)
Online Centre Benefits Advisor