Changes to disability benefits assessments

Blog - Sangeeta Enright, Welfare & Rights Advisor -

As coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions lift across the UK, Sangeeta Enright, the Trust’s Welfare & Rights Advisor, discusses changes in the way disability benefits are assessed.

What’s changing about Personal Independence Payment (PIP)?

In March 2020, all face-to-face assessments for disability benefits were suspended as part of the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) response to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the same time, people with CF were advised that they should stay at home and ‘shield’ as the government drew up a list of those they considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable. 

With restrictions now lifting across the UK, the DWP has now announced that face-to-face disability assessments for PIP will resume from June 2021. 

It’s understandable that there are ‘mixed feelings’ about COVID-19 restrictions lifting and you may have concerns or questions about the DWP resuming face-to-face disability benefits assessments. Although shielding advice has now ended, you may still feel you are at risk and would prefer to take additional precautions to minimise any potential exposure to the virus. On the other hand, many people with CF have shared how disruptive and isolating the experience of shielding was, and are keen to get back to their normal activities. These are your choices to make and we are here to support what’s best for you. 

When will face-to-face assessments start up again?

There are two companies who carry out the assessments for PIP: Capita in England (the Midlands), Wales, and Northern Ireland; and IAS in the rest of England and in Scotland.

We understand that this will be a gradual slow move back towards offering face-to-face assessments to some claimants, and we expect that the majority of assessments (at least in the short term) will be by phone. 

We have been given the following dates by the assessment providers:

  • Across England and Scotland, and those from the Cardiff and Swansea regions of Wales; letters will be sent out inviting people from 17 May, with the first assessments carried out in early June
  • Other areas of Wales will resume over the following few of weeks.
  • NI is likely to resume in July, with small volumes at first.


How will I know/find out about my assessment?

If you are due for a disability benefits assessment, you will be invited for your assessment by letter, which should clearly set out what to expect at your appointment.

Our understanding is that you will not be offered a preference as to whether you are assessed on paper, by phone, by video (currently being trialled) or face-to-face. This is a decision made by the private company assessors (Capita and IAS) contracted by the DWP. We have been told that the majority of assessments will still be carried out by telephone. 

Supporting you

It’s understandable that you might feel worried or anxious about having a disability benefits assessment, whether that’s in person or over the phone. We want to support your decisions and make sure you have the information you need. We have factsheets about telephone assessments and face-to-face assessments to help you prepare and know what to expect.

What if I am unable to attend the assessment?

You can ask for the assessment to be rearranged, but usually only once. If the DWP decides that you didn’t have a “good reason” to not attend an arranged assessment, then your claim could be closed. You can either challenge that decision or make a fresh claim, but both of these processes take time. 

What if I cannot attend a face-to-face assessment?

If you are invited to a face-to-face assessment but would prefer a telephone assessment because you do not feel comfortable or safe travelling to an assessment centre, you can let the assessment provider know. As CF is classed as a disability, you can ask to change the type of assessment as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act*. You may need a letter from your CF team to support you and explain why you would prefer a telephone appointment. 

If you feel under pressure to attend a face-to-face disability benefits assessment appointment when you don’t feel safe doing so, or you need any help and support, please contact the Social Worker in your CF team, or our Helpline.

*In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) applies instead.

Your experiences

The Trust is also a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a coalition of over 100 charities and organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system. Hearing of your experiences will help inform our policy work.  If you would like to share your experiences, please contact our Helpline

Visit our website for more information about PIP, how to claim, the assessment process and criteria for being assessed.

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