SDLP Social Justice spokesperson Mark H Durkan has called for clarity from Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey regarding the renewal of her Department’s contract with Capita to deliver Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessment Services.
He reiterated that to renew the contract would be to “reward failure”.
In response to a prior Assembly Question the Department for Communities (DfC) revealed that due to the challenges presented by the pandemic, they were considering extending the contract that was due to expire on July 31, 2021 for another two years.
The Foyle MLA: “The end of the contract with Capita was an opportunity for the Minister to instigate a new approach to PIP assessments, one that would subject applicants to arbitrary bureaucracy and cause them needless stress and worry.
“Instead, she seems prepared to give more public money to an organisation that has caused distress to people with disabilities and brinks on potential human rights violations. Just recently, one PIP claimant successfully challenged the Department to reconsider adjustments for how claimants communicate with them including requests for Capita assessments to be recorded. I have consistently raised a myriad of concerns with the PIP process and had warned early in the pandemic of potential problems with telephone assessments, setting some vulnerable applicants at a serious disadvantage.
“The NI Audit Office report into PIP published in March, highlighted failure after failure in the delivery of PIP and the Department’s management of the Capita contract. That the Department should award these glaring failures to support people with disabilities, with a multi-million-pound contract does not stand to reason. Even more baffling is that the extension of Capita’s PIP contract goes against the Minister’s own party policy, a party who have been among Capita’s biggest critics.
“The successful appeal rate of 63% is indicative of Capita’s failings: these issues are entrenched and unlikely to be resolved by the proposed review in the next few months.
“The Second Independent Review of the PIP Assessment by Marie Cavanagh made clear that the Department must be taking steps to move towards bringing assessments in-house- their plans to begin to include in-house assessments by 2023 is simply too slow.”