Will claimants soon be forced to claim personal independence payment online as part of the DWP’s cost cutting measures? A cheap to process online PIP2 ‘How your disability affects you’ form is now being tested by the DWP. At the same time the department has agreed to further major cuts to its running costs.
Cost cutting claims
The DWP is understood to have come to an agreement with the treasury about how much it will reduce its already inadequate operating expenses in the latest round of cuts. While the exact amount is not known the average cuts to other departments are 21% by 2019-20.
One of the ways that the DWP is aiming to reduce costs is by making as much of the claims system as possible digital. Online claims are much quicker and easier to process and mean that costly storage and retrieval of paper forms is avoided.
The PIP digital claim team have announced on a DWP blog that a new online PIP claim form has now gone into ‘private beta’ testing. This means that volunteers are testing the form in the privacy of their own homes using their own equipment rather than going into DWP offices to try it out.
The same but different
In total, the new PIP2 form consists of over 20 screens with 250 possible options for claimants to answer. The online form will also, it seems ask different questions to the paper claim form. According to the PIP digital claim team’s content designer, Joanne:
“We need to know about people’s quality of life - information that’s hard to draw out with closed questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Because of the range and complexity of health conditions, our users want to tell their own story. It’s been a big challenge to design questions in a way that allows users to do this and still give us the information we need to make a decision.”
The type of questions asked can make a real difference to the quality of the evidence provided, as Joanne herself admits:
“Some questions work better for certain conditions, some aren’t eliciting enough information and some risk misinterpretation.”
Business analysts Laura and Tracey make it clear that the questions on the online form are going to be markedly different:
“Our role is also to make sure that the new way that we’re asking questions allows us to make quality decisions about each PIP claim as well as tackle some of the policy challenges we face, such as how we capture the date when the claim is made and why we gather certain data.”
Different form, different outcomes
But if online claimants are asked different questions to paper claimants then there is the real possibility of a two tier service developing, with one group being more likely to get awards because they are asked for more targeted evidence.
In addition, it seems that the type of form you complete might make a difference to whether you have to have a face-to-face assessment.
PIP case manager Joe explains on the digital claim team’s blog that:
“It’s my job to assess whether the user has included enough information in their claim for us to make a decision. This makes the claim easier for the user as we don’t have to ask them for further information. It also helps that we are joined by colleagues from our Healthcare Providers (Atos and Capita) who can take a view on how well they could assess the information received as well as share their experience so we can make further improvements to the questions we ask.”
It sounds, then, as if one of the aims of the digital form may be to cut back on the number of people who are called in for an assessment with a heath professional.
Voluntary or compulsory
Many claimants would welcome the opportunity to claim online rather than using a paper form. This is especially the case as the online form allows you to save your work and return to it at a later date. (Although some DLA claimants will remember the extremely unreliable online DLA claim form which routinely crashed and lost all the supposedly saved information).
But there are some big question marks.
For instance, will claimants be limited to how many characters they can enter into each box, meaning that they will be prevented from giving sufficiently detailed evidence?
And how easy will it be to send in additional evidence and be sure it is available to the case manager at the same time as they are looking at the digital form?
But perhaps the most important question of all is, will claimants be given a choice?
Because the digital system will save considerable amounts of money the DWP are going to be keen to get as many claimants as possible to use it. And it may lead to confusion if there are two different sets of questions being answered by different claimants. According to assisted digital lead Siju,:
“We need to make sure the service meets the needs of people who aren’t able to complete a digital claim without help.
“Now we’re asking real users to test the service, we’ve made sure support is there if they need it - and we’ve already had our first user complete a test claim using this support.”
But people who can’t make a digital claim without help might well prefer to use a paper form instead. Will they be given that option or will it only be in special, carefully defined circumstances, that claimants will be able to opt out of digital claims? Might claimants without access to computers even be expected to make their claim in a Jobcentre?
We’ll keep readers informed.
Meanwhile, we’d be fascinated to learn more about the digital claim process and the DWP are asking for volunteers to try out the form – not on their actual claim at this point. So, if you’d like to be a Benefits and Work mole, you might want to email email@example.com and offer your services.
Thanks to Rightsnet for highlighting this story.