The “systemic maladministration ” facing the disabled applying for Personal Independence Payments -official findings

Margaret Kelly Northern Ireland Ombudsman

Northern Ireland ministry and Capita under fire

An absolutely damning report has been issued by Margaret Kelly, the Northern Ireland Ombudsman on the way hundreds of thousands of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 are assessed to see if they qualify for personal independence payments.

This two year investigation into the benefit is the first made by the Ombudsman using new powers under Northern Ireland legislation giving their Ombudsman the power to initiate inquiries if the Ombudsman thinks something is going wrong. This type of inquiry would be illegal in England, Scotland and Wales because Ombudsman do not have the same powers.

In Westminster Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is currently refusing to even introduce draft legislation to give Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. similar powers to start his own inquiries.

The findings apply to the 250,580 people who applied for the benefit in Northern Ireland but as the NI Ombudsman’s Office says ” there are many similarities to PIP across other parts of the UK.”

The report – which examined 100 cases in minute detail, made extensive inquiries of the ministry and Capita, and looked at statistics governing appeals concludes there has been ” systematic maladministration” by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities and Capita, who were administering the assessments.

Not “one off mistakes”

The report says these were not one off mistakes. Instead she” identified repeated failures which are likely to reoccur if left unremedied. It is therefore my view that there is more work to be done to improve the experience and outcomes for claimants, the robustness of decision making and public confidence in the system.”

She has made some 33 recommendations and has given the ministry and Capita six months to rectify them. She can’t compel the ministry to implement them but has said she will do a follow up report to see what they have done. The report also went to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Ms Kelly said:
“Too many people have had their claims for PIP unfairly rejected, and then found themselves having to challenge that decision, often ‘in the dark’, and on multiple occasions, while not knowing what evidence has been requested and relied upon to assess their entitlement.

” Both Capita and the Department need to shift their focus to ensure that they get more of the PIP benefit decisions right the first time, so that the most vulnerable people in our society get access to the support that they need, when they need it. Furthermore, it will safeguard public resources by reducing both the time and costs associated with examining the same claim on multiple occasions.”

The report reveals a serious lack of leadership and guidance from the ministry, poor communication with claimants and a failure to get key additional medical information which would have helped them get the benefit. As a result many of them had their applications turned down only to appeal and get the benefit – at a cost of some £14m to the taxpayer. If the ministry and Capita had got the information in the first place there would have not have been the need for an appeal.

Capita had an incentive NOT to get further medical information to help claimants

She also discovered that disability assessors working for Capita had a perverse incentive NOT to get additional information to help the claimant because they would get a bonus if they completed the application quicker and getting extra information slowed down the process.

Capita were also criticised for poor communications with health professionals as well as claimants. When evidence was requested from Health Professionals named by the claimant, the request letters sent by Capita were often poorly completed and did not specify what information was sought.

In face to face assessments, the evidence from the consultations was often the primary and in some cases the only source of evidence relied upon by the Disability Assessors when providing their advice to the Department.

I came across this report because of a link to my blog from UKAJI, the United Kingdom Administrative Justice Unit, who have reviewed the long report. Their article is here.

I concur with their review which was impressed with the high standard of the research and the bar it set for future Ombudsman investigations.

To my mind this again shows the current weakness of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Westminster. The present Ombudsman can only investigate complaints and therefore is left with a much narrower remit. By having powers to do a broad ranging investigation, much more detail can be investigated and issues that governments don’t want to address can be highlighted. Hence the conclusion in this report that the disabled have been subject not just to maladministration but ” systemic maladministration”. I bet disabled claimants are similarly treated in the rest of the UK but nobody has the resources to properly investigate their poor treatment. Let’s see what happens in Northern Ireland following this devastating report.

7 thoughts on “The “systemic maladministration ” facing the disabled applying for Personal Independence Payments -official findings

  1. David……your conclusion is ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON!

    The scenarios you detail are exactly what’s happened to me…..evidence not requested, overlooked, wrong outcomes and trying again, again and again to get the correct outcome

    It is a tragedy and persistent maladministration in the UK by the DWP towards claimants and court cases here where claimants have had PIP stopped as ‘fit for work’ and so poorly that they died.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting development from Northern Ireland but what exactly will happen next? I actually left a comment on the UKAJI post when it appeared. Ombudsmen can report, name and shame all they like but what actually is the remedy/sanction they can impose? PHSOtheFacts has been campaigning for change for years, yet the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman refuses to engage with the group in the debate, mainly because the group have pointed out his errors including flawed reports, inadequate investigations and data breaches.
    Michael Gove, Cabinet Office Minister, has set himself and the government against Ombudsman reform for the foreseeable future despite the urgings of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). There needs to be an enquiry into the whole sector to make it more accountable and better value for money. As things stand, Ombudsmen are a convenient arms length body for government to bury its own failings.
    Keep at this David. As Quinin Hogg said in the House of Commons in the 1960’s when Ombudsman legislation was debated “It’s a swiz”

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  3. it’s not maladministration…it’s deliberate! especially when you get private companies involved who are there to make a profit…Capita was a large part of why i have ended up in the situation i have been for last decade and a half….and did you know these muppets also do the original recruitment process for the so called security services…? well, it may have changed since ’98…..

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  4. This is definitely a UK wide problem. At least NI is forward thinking enough to put in place a ‘voice’ for the poor people unfortunate enough to be caught up in the hamster wheel of any type of health related claim. As long as the Government here insists it’s a good idea to employ the private sector to do these so called assessments there will still be disabled or people with health issues being forced into impossible situations. There is such an onus placed upon the claimant to provide ‘proof’ of whatever their health issues and that it is almost impossible to do with treatment delays caused by the NHS backed up because of Covid. If you have no/little proof, through no fault of your own these so called assessors throw your case out. Capita and the like are solely about raking in the money paid to them by the Government and don’t give a toss about the consequences their actions may have. These assessors are supposed to be health professionals!!!. My WCA decision was thrown out by one of these so called ‘decision makers’ before I’d even had any real medical investigation done. I’ve waited over 7 months for an x ray appointment because everything was either in lockdown or NHS trying to catch up and is finally due to be done this Thursday 29th. My so called ‘decision maker’ threw out my case and deemed me ‘fit for work’ on the 20th, even though I have a sick note until October. I personally haven’t been able to have a face to face appointment with any GP since 31st Dec 2020 when he first referred me for an x ray. The system currently in place has got to be the most unfair, cruel and depression inducing set up ever invented. The whole system is a farce.

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    • Your last sentence, Laura, is spot on. the system has been designed from start to finish to put you off claiming in the first place. Just at your worst and least able to cope, a huge booklet lands on your mat for you to fill in, no matter how ill you are. There is definitely a right and wrong way to fill it in. I was given the assessors training and guidance booklet by a council benefits adivisor but still I was refused. You know the rest, I won’t bore you with it. I got ESA and PIP in the end mainly because my disability is episodic so have some good days, good days quickly turning to bad due to the stress of it all.
      Surely our GPs’, hospital doctors’ word should be good enough. This baloney about needing to assess so that we get the help we need is an outright lie.

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      • Well done to you Katy for sticking it out and eventually getting was you should have automatically received. very happy for you. It seems that by keeping the process as anonymous as possible these people know that a lot of people drop out of all the bother of pushing for PIP/ESA. This Government should look at this poor and unjust system as a matter of urgency, but nobody is holding their breath I imagine. I’m one of the 50’s women being denied their State Pension, so I am well used to being screwed by the DWP!!!

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