Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing this very important debate and on an excellent contribution that clearly laid out the difficulties that people in Wales are experiencing with PIPs.
The difficulties with the PIP process are all the more excruciating to witness—let alone go through—because in all the debates we had over the work capability assessments in the past, Ministers were repeatedly asked how they would ensure that the PIP process was fit for purpose. I certainly asked, and the reply from the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), was that we should not worry. She said that the Department was working with more than 50 disability organisations and that
“we will ensure that it is very much fit for purpose.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 22.]
Clearly, that is not the case.
Like the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) I want to say to the Minister, please do not underestimate the very real, palpable fear out there about the change from the disability living allowance to PIPs. That was brought home to me by a constituent called Richard, who has cerebral palsy. He has a range of care needs
and has been fretting about this process for about a year. I know that he will get PIPs almost automatically, but although I have repeatedly tried to reassure him through my office and through the agencies that work with him, he is still extremely stressed about it. I say to the Minister that that is the backdrop we are working with. There have been repeated changes to the welfare system that are hitting people in multiple ways, and it is terrifying for people.
I am not alone in seeing constituents who are experiencing lengthy delays at every stage of the PIP process. They are waiting for the forms from the DWP following the part 1 process on the telephone. A lot of constituents are having difficulties with the part 2 forms. If those are not returned, it seems that people fall out of the system, which seems to be a particular problem for people with mental health issues. If they just cannot cope with the part 2 form, what happens to them? I know that they are supposed to be followed up by Capita, but that does not seem to be the case.
People are then waiting months for an assessment. When they finally have one, it takes an inordinate amount of time for Capita to process the assessment, generate a report and hand it over to the DWP for the decision. That was confirmed by Newport citizens advice bureau, which has had more than 30 cases waiting for about five months for a decision and two cases waiting for seven months. It also puts an extreme strain on advice workers, who are already struggling with cuts and struggling to be able to support people. They are finding that doing so is a great difficulty.
I saw a woman who had to wait seven months for her decision. We only got the decision after an intervention from my office, and I dread to think how long it might have taken otherwise. That was seven months of stress and anxiety—Capita apologises for the delays, but it is not good enough. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South, I saw another lady who applied in July and was not assessed until November, and in one phone call to Capita she was told that if she wanted to speed things up or wanted any progress to be made she should contact her MP, which is clearly ridiculous.In addition to the delays, a lot of paperwork, including important reports, seems to be lost between Capita and the DWP. There are call centres with no named contact, so people are repeatedly calling back and are not able to get to anyone who understands their case, and there is poor communication. All in all, it is an infuriating experience for the constituent.
I know that the Government will say that there are teething problems, but as today’s debate shows, it is important that the Minister realises some of the consequences that the situation has on people’s lives. A constituent of mine had to rack up debt on credit cards and sell his car while waiting for his wife’s claim to be processed. He happened to be a taxi driver, so you can imagine the financial strain that has put the family under, Mr Owen. Another constituent was left in debt as she waited for her claim to be processed. She had direct debits and no money in her account, and she now has bank charges to cope with. We are not helping people to lead independent lives; they are often having to rely on other people to bail them out during the process.
As my hon. Friend said, a representative from Capita met Welsh MPs last week and admitted that the key assumptions in its business case had been wrong. They said that the face-to-face assessments took two and a half hours, not one hour. It took longer to train assessors than they thought, and to the Minister’s credit, he and other Ministers have admitted delays at their end, too. This week, we heard in Wales that DWP civil servants will be drafted in to help process the applications. I welcome both the fact that the Department will help out and the recommendations from the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that the Department closely examine its systems. I particularly urge the Minister to look for Wales to delay the roll-out until the backlog has been cleared. That is crucial, particularly in Wales, where we have so many DLA recipients.
I know that the Minister has admitted that all is not well, but it would be helpful if he could say in his winding-up speech how much of what has happened is the DWP and how much is Capita, because there are delays at both ends. What is the backlog in Wales currently? If we are moving to paper-based decisions in Wales in future, which perhaps might be piloted in Wales, can we at least understand that there will not be further difficulties with that process and get assurances from the Minister on that point?
If you want to read the full debate in Parliament the link is below