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Efforts to transform experience of disability benefit claimants face risks, PAC finds

29 November 2023

  • Concerns that DWP has not done enough to communicate with public and claimants on revising health assessments
  • Government's approach to programme could leave taxpayer vulnerable to higher costs and delays

There is a risk that Government will deliver a new service for disability benefit claimants without the important improvements to the claimant’s experience. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee warns that, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), ready soon to test an improved service at scale, it faces significant risks that the PAC has seen derail other major government programmes.

Despite providing essential financial support for some of those most in need, applying for disability benefits can currently be lengthy and stressful for claimants. The DWP established the Health Transformation Programme (HTP) in 2018 to digitise the process, enable online applications, improve case management, and triage claims. The report warns that the the greatest risk to this work is that the DWP focuses exclusively on the delivery of a new digitalised service, without achieving the important transformational change for the experience of claimants.

The Government is more likely to improve the service if it works with disabled people and their representative bodies, but the report raises concerns that the DWP has not done enough to communicate and engage with the public and claimants about what they can expect from the revised service. While some charities and stakeholder groups welcome the Department’s proposed changes, the Department has not promoted the Programme widely to the public. The DWP does not currently intend to consider a national campaign to improve awareness until it reaches the stage of scaling up the programme, which will not happen for a couple of years.

The DWP expects the HTP to cost £1bn, of which it has spent £168m up to March ’23. It expects to achieve benefits equivalent to £2.6bn by improving the speed and accuracy of decisions, giving claimants better support, and improving claimants’ trust in decisions made. But the report warns that the DWP’s approach to working with contractors could leave the taxpayer vulnerable to contractual disputes, higher costs and delays.

Deputy Chair's comment

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“Disability benefits are designed to help people both with extra living costs and with everyday life. The Government’s work to reform the complicated, stressful and lengthy application process is hugely significant for the approximately 3.9 million claimants, their relatives and advocates. These reforms will only be successful if they truly transform service users’ experience, rather than simply delivering the bells and whistles of a new digital platform.

The DWP set up the programme in July 2018 to transform the health assessment and PIP application process. It aims to do this by digitalising the process enabling online applications, improving case management and triaging claims. As a result, the Department told us that the claims process would be simpler, more user friendly, easier to navigate, more joined up for claimants and better value for money.

We were informed that this will involve the introduction of a large new IT programme estimated to cost £1bn, producing benefits of £2.6bn. The Government’s record of introducing large IT programmes has not been good. But the witnesses demonstrated that the implementation so far has been thorough and well thought through.

So, one of our recommendations is to produce annual reports stating a) how well its evaluation of the new service is progressing against targets, and b) assessing whether it is on track to achieve its benefits for claimants and taxpayers.

These reforms are at a critical juncture now that they are soon to be at the test stage, a point at which our Committee has seen other major government projects come off the rails. The DWP must expand its focus to genuinely put claimants right at the heart of this work if it is to achieve the wider benefits of this programme, and we hope the recommendations in our report serve as a helpful guide in this regard.”

Further information

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