18 November 2007
Anybody except the terminally ill can have their disability living allowance (DLA) award checked and reduced or ended at any time, no matter what their condition, under new rules introduced by the DWP without consultation..
Welfare rights workers are already reporting cases of clients to whom this is happening.
The DWP have always checked a proportion of DLA claims. However, until the introduction of the Right Payment Project (RPP) in May of this year a wide range of claimants were exempt from these checks. This included many people who were already receiving the highest rate care and mobility components and who had severe conditions which can't improve - such as cystic fibrosis, dementia, learning difficulties and Parkinson's disease.
The list also included people getting higher rate mobility and higher or middle rate care who were over 65 or paraplegic, tetraplegic, quadriplegic both deaf and blind or a double amputee.
Astonishingly, all these groups will now be subject to checks. The DWP claims that:
'The Right Payment Project is centred on whether the DLA payment is correct, focussing on potential underpayments as well as overpayments"
But as those formerly exempt groups listed above are mainly people receiving the highest rates of both components, these checks can only be for the purpose of reducing awards - there is no way of increasing them.
Under RPP 12,000 cases will be checked every year and the only exemptions will be people who have had their cases looked at in the last 12 months and terminally ill people. However, the DWP admit that even the latter may lose their exemption once a study of 'Special Rules' cases has been completed.
Such wholesale checks used to take place under the much hated Benefits Integrity Project (BIP). BIP was set up at the end of the last Conservative government but actually began after Labour came to power. Official figures showed that out of 55,000 cases investigated just 50 possible cases of fraud were uncovered. Nonetheless, the project caused enormous stress, misery and worsening health to many claimants. In addition, advice agencies had to undertake huge amounts of extra work to prepare cases and attend tribunals to get clearly eligible claimants their DLA back. After years of protest by disability groups, BIP was finally abandoned and replaced with the Periodic Review system which had a list of exemptions to protect the most sick and disabled from unnecessary checks and medical visits.
Now, however, a system of checking awards almost identical in nature to BIP has been reintroduced without and kind of discussion in parliament and without any public announcement by the DWP. (It seems , however, that a number of national voluntary sector organisations were informed about the changes but failed to pass the information on to their members. More on this in a future newsletter.) It was only when Benefits and Work moderator and former appeal tribunal wing member Jim Allison discovered what was happening in early November, after being contacted by a claimant, that the alarm was raised.
Jim is angry and worried about the introduction of the new spot check system. He told Benefits and Work:
"I personally feel RPP will be Benefits Integrity Project Mark 2. It is at least morally wrong in that people who are paraplegic, quadriplegic, have chronic multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, etc and who are already in receipt of DLA higher rate mobility and care and who's needs can only get worse will be subjected to RPP."
Jim believes that the decision to drop exemptions must have been taken at ministerial level and is now making Freedom of Information requests to try force the DWP to reveal exactly who is responsible. On 5th November Jim also started a petition on the Downing Street website demanding the reinstatement of exemptions. Almost 700 people have signed so far. Just three days after the petition was launched, following six months of silence, the DWP issued a press release announcing the introduction of RPP.
Jim Allison is urging people to join the campaign.
"At least 50 people I know have written to their MP's to ask for a parliamentary question to the Secretary of State. I have a meeting with my MP sometime next week. I'm urging as many as possible to use their MP and sign the petition."
The introduction of RPP is clearly already having an effect. On the Rightsnet website, used by welfare rights workers, advisors report having seen 'lots of clients' receiving RPP forms. Many of these are being told that the DWP isn't satisfied with the evidence provided by them and their GP and that an Atos Origin Medical Services doctor is being sent to visit them.
One advisor quotes the case of a 75 year old man who received a 'lifetime' award of higher rate mobility and lower rate care 12 years ago. He was re-examined under RPP and lost his mobility award completely. The advisor reports that their client is 'devastated'.
Prior to the introduction of RPP this claimant would have been in an exempt group. So, please, sign the online petition here and show your support for claimants with the severest illnesses and disabilities