Disabled NI pensioners no longer to be ‘put on trial’ over PIPs benefit

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd outlined a package of measures in a speech to disabled charity Scope
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd outlined a package of measures in a speech to disabled charity Scope

Repeat PIP assessments for thousands of disabled pensioners in Northern Ireland are to come to an end in the very near future.

As of this spring, some 7,500 pensioners in the Province will not have their personal independence payments (PIPs) regularly reviewed.

Confirmation of the change to the system in NI came as the government’s Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd pledged an overhaul in order to “level the terrain” for disabled people.

Ms Rudd outlined a package of measures on Tuesday in a speech to disabled charity Scope.

Viewed by many as a U-turn, she said her move was inspired by her father: “My father became blind in 1981. For 36 years his blindness was a normal part of my family’s life. Of my life.

“I reflected on my father’s lack of sight and how it affected his life and the lives of those who loved him, as I considered my role in supporting disabled people in Britain.

“People with disabilities and health conditions have enough challenges in life and dealing with my department should not be one of them.

“Some disabled people have said to me they feel as though they are put on trial for seeking state support. Nobody in government wants that.

“So we need to do more to close the gap between our intentions and your experience.”

Under the current system, which came under criticism from disabled campaigners, benefits under the PIP system face regular reviews, with less temporary and less severe conditions being assessed more frequently.

From spring, 270,000 people in Britain will not have personal independence payments regularly reviewed.

The Department of Communities said of the situation in Northern Ireland: “We will be mirroring this approach in NI and from this spring, about 7,500 people in NI will not have personal independence payment (PIP) regularly reviewed.”

Sinn Fein welfare spokesperson Alex Maskey said the Department for Communities announcement was a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.

He said: “The entire PIP assessment is beset with problems and needs to be fundamentally overhauled.”

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the “fundamentally flawed” PIPs system requires overhaul rather than “another attempt to tinker around the edges to give the Tory party the veneer of taking a more compassionate approach to welfare entitlement.”