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How is the Department for Work and Pensions proposing to change Personal Independence Payment?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published major proposals to change parts of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a benefit for working age people to help cover the extra costs of living with a disability or health condition. The proposals include changes to eligibility criteria, assessment processes and support that is offered.

There will now be a 12 week consultation period on the proposals that anyone can feed in to. The proposals can be read in full on the website and the webform to respond to the consultation online can be accessed here. You can also submit your response by email and post.

The DWP’s overall aim is to cut the welfare bill, and the proposals have understandably caused worry among many blind and partially sighted people. It’s important to remember that the proposals to reform PIP are just plans at this stage, so there won’t be any immediate changes, and the consultation is your chance to tell the Government what you think.

We know that key areas of PIP need improving, and we will use this opportunity to tell the DWP what blind and partially sighted people want to see changed.

What changes have been proposed for consultation?

Changing the PIP eligibility criteria

  • The consultation explores whether there should be changes to the PIP eligibility criteria, including whether changes should be made to activities, descriptors and points.
  • It also suggests increasing the length of the qualifying period which is currently three months.

Our initial thoughts

  • We strongly oppose any tightening of the criteria to qualify for PIP for people with sight loss, including extending the length of time a person needs to wait to access PIP after sight loss. There are already considerable delays in accessing PIP, a benefit many blind and partially sighted people rely on. People need quicker access to PIP, not slower.
  • We know many blind and partially sighted people applying for PIP feel that their sight loss and its impact have not been taken seriously, for example due to a lack of awareness of sight loss amongst assessors and informal observations like “the claimant made good eye contact during the assessment” being used to make assumptions about a person’s abilities.
  • In our consultation response we will be pushing for the PIP eligibility criteria, including descriptors and activities, to better match the daily lives of people with sight loss.

Reforming the PIP assessment

  • The DWP wants to know if the current PIP assessment, which is based on a functional assessment, needs changing.
  • A new assessment model has been proposed which could be based entirely or partly on an individual’s diagnosis. The consultation says that “this would mean that people could receive entitlement to PIP based on specific health conditions or disability, evidenced by a health care professional, without undergoing an assessment.”
  • There is also a proposal to stop reassessing people whose condition will not change.

Our initial thoughts

  • We would welcome proposals that would stop people with a Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI) from undergoing unnecessary assessments and reassessments for PIP.
  • With long NHS waiting lists however, we’d need reassurance those awaiting diagnosis could still access support.

Proposals to moving away from a fixed cash benefit system

  • The consultation seeks views on how the extra costs of disabilities or health conditions should be defined.
  • It also proposes “moving away” from fixed monthly cash payments to “tailored support” such as vouchers, one-off grants, and improved access to mental health support.
  • Importantly, the consultation recognises some people “may find the current system does not provide enough support to meet their needs.”

Our initial thoughts

  • Even before living costs began to rise dramatically in early 2022, 28 per cent of blind and partially sighted people said that the disability benefits they received were rarely or never enough to meet the extra costs incurred as a result of their sight loss.
  • In our response we’ll be emphasising the need for PIP to be set at a level that adequately covers the extra costs that come with sight loss.
  • Five years ago, these extra costs averaged between £50 and £135 a week. We know that these costs will now be higher and it’s important that people with sight loss can continue to use PIP to meet them, therefore we’ll be strongly opposing any changes which leave people with sight loss without the right level of support for their needs.

Next steps

RNIB will be responding to the consultation in full over the coming weeks, and we’ll share the key points that you might want to raise if you respond as an individual. You can read more about the consultation here, including how to respond by the deadline of 22 July.