Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has acknowledged the need for further change to the delivery of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), whilst reiterating her commitment to build on improvements she has already implemented.
Minister Hargey was speaking after the release of a report by the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO), Margaret Kelly which specifically examined how further evidence is used in assessing entitlement to the benefit.
The Communities Minister welcomed the Ombudsman’s acknowledgment of the significant work carried out by the Department on the “huge task” of PIP delivery, in the Ombudsman’s ‘Own Initiative investigation’ which was instigated prior to Minister Hargey’s appointment. The investigation examined claims or complaints made between June 2018 and the beginning of the investigation in July 2019.
Minister Hargey said:
“I am firmly committed to enacting positive change in PIP delivery.
“My Department has consistently demonstrated that commitment by taking forward recommendations from statutory reviews previously carried out by Walter Rader and Marie Cavanagh.
“I remain open to scrutiny and welcome the opportunity to drive further improvements in the service to ensure it is delivered in a compassionate and empathetic manner.”
At present nearly 154,000 people are receiving PIP, of which 38% are receiving the highest rate of benefit payable. As part of its ongoing commitment to improving PIP delivery, the Department for Communities has taken steps to in-house a number of critical aspects of the service including the in-housing of a clinical audit function which will increase independence and provide greater oversight to support the assessment process.
Furthermore, a number of additional improvements to the assessment process have been introduced including the completion of PIP award reviews in-house where sufficient evidence is available. This has reduced referrals to the PIP Assessment Provider by 25%.
The Minister continued:
“I remain dedicated to a rights-based approach to social security delivery which in the case of PIP means ensuring that the quality of health assessments continues to improve.
“My Department will continue to focus on expanding the in-housing of PIP assessments.
“Meanwhile, we will carefully consider all the recommendations of the NIPSO report and continue discussions with stakeholders on how they may be taken forward.”
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