Government in court over disability benefit changes

Court proceedings will begin in Birmingham today to determine whether the Government’s decision to change the eligibility criteria for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was unlawful.

At the end of 2012 the DWP announced, with no consultation, that the distance people would need to walk in order to qualify for the highest rate of the mobility part of the benefit would change from 50 metres, to just 20 metres.

Now, if disabled people can walk more than 20 metres – even using aids such as sticks – they will no longer qualify for the highest rate of the benefit.

The change could mean a loss of over £33 a week or access to a Motability vehicle, electric wheelchair or mobility scooter – which many use to get to work, college or medical appointments. Government projections show that over half a million people are set to lose out under the new rules (1).

The Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of more than 50 UK charities campaigning for a fairer welfare system – has branded the change “life shattering” for disabled people.

Following public pressure, and the start of this judicial review, the Government consulted on the eligibility change last summer; out of more than 1,100 responses received, only five were in favour of the new criteria. Despite this, proceedings have continued and disabled people in certain parts of the UK are to be called, or have already been called, for assessments using the new test.

Lawyers will argue on 9 July that the government failed to carry out a fair consultation before making their decision to adopt the new test for the mobility component of PIP. They’ll say that, by the time the consultation was carried out last year, decisions about how the rest of the scheme would work had already been made, and committed to financially, leaving little scope to make any changes – no matter how people responded.

Claire Nurden, Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and Senior Policy & Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, said:

“We have already seen how the Government have failed to listen to concerns about the introduction of PIP, resulting in major delays and devastating impacts on the lives of disabled people. This is yet another example of how grave concerns have been ignored and will have life-shattering results.

“PIP is intended to help those most in need but it is exactly these people that are set to lose. The 20 metre rule is arbitrary; it’s inconsistent with guidance used for the last 35 years which suggests that 50 metres is a more appropriate measure of significant mobility impairment. The Government has presented no new evidence to justify the change.

She continued: “This money is an absolute life line for people – many use it for a Motability vehicle so they can continue to remain independent, travelling to work or medical appointments, or picking up the children from school.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had from disabled people who are terrified about what this rule will mean for them. We hope the court case finds the decision unlawful. It is vital that this prompts the government to reinstate the 50 metre qualifying distance.”

The Disability Benefits Consortium also claims the government has failed to justify the decision to change the distance. Claire Nurden added: “The government have argued that the change is justified because the test considers whether people can complete the distance ‘reliably’, but this fails to address the issue because those who can walk between 20 and 50 metres will still lose out.”

This court case is the latest in a series of issues the DWP have experienced with the new disability benefit, the most notable being long delays for new applicants and face to face assessments – with some people waiting up to a year for a decision on whether or not they’re eligible.

The court case begins on 9 July and is expected to last two days, with a decision at a later date.

The Disability Benefits Consortium is a coalition of more than 50 charities and other organisations, including the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Disability Rights UK, committed to working towards a fairer benefits system.

Notes to editors
(1) Table 4, P 46, The Government’s response to the consultation on the PIP assessment Moving around activity