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Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman’s investigation into Personal Independence Payment

The Law Centre welcomes the findings of the Ombudsman’s report, published today, that strongly resonate with our experience of supporting clients through the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) process over the last number of years. Law Centre has been highlighting these difficulties for some time. We know how important it is for our clients that the correct evidence is properly assessed before a decision is made and this report underscores many of the difficulties that our clients have experienced in getting the right decision at the right time.

The report makes welcome recommendations to the Department for Communities (DfC) for improving the processes, including the ultimate responsibility of the departmental decision-makers to ensure their decisions are right.

Speaking about the report, Law Centre Director, Ursula O’Hare, said:

This report highlights many of the challenges that Law Centre has seen in the implementation of PIP over the last number of years. We welcome the emphasis on getting decisions right first time so that no-one is left without the support they need when they need it. Having to appeal against a refusal of PIP is stressful and can leave people without support over a long period of time, especially against the backdrop of the current backlog of appeals in the tribunal system. The recommendations in this timely report put people at the heart of decision-making and we urgently call for the recommendations to be implemented in full.”

Owen McCloskey of the Law Centre, said:

Having consistently raised many of these issues with DfC and Capita on behalf of clients and the advice sector I welcome this report. In particular, issues with Case Managers failing to explicitly address obvious conflicts in evidence and the failure to adequately investigate complaints. This now presents DfC with a renewed opportunity to positively address this systemic maladministration”.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was first introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016 with the Welfare Reform Act. It replaces Disability Living Allowance for people between 16 and State Pension age.
  2. The Department for Communities publishes quarterly statistics on PIP. See here. As of February 2021, there have been 250,580 registrations for PIP since its introduction in NI in 2016.
  3. As of February 2021, 153,680 PIP claims were in payment.
  4. The main disabling conditions for PIP awards are: psychiatric disorders (mental illness), musculoskeletal disease, neurological disease and respiratory disease.
  5. The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order requires that two Independent Reviews on the operation of PIP Assessments are laid before the NI Assembly. The first review and the Department for Communities” response is found here and the second review and response is here.
  6. In March 2021, the backlog of PIP appeals was 6,039.
  7. Law Centre NI provides social security advice and representation to PIP claimants during the appeal process.
  8. For media enquiries, contact Catherine McShane email