DWP reforms: Full list of changes planned for people on PIP, Universal Credit and other benefits

DWP signage at an unknown location
Department for Work and Pensions in Westminster, London -Credit:Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Rishi Sunak has outlined a raft of reforms targeting individuals on PIP, Universal Credit, legacy benefits, or those long-term sick, with the aim of reining in escalating costs and addressing issues such as inactivity, long-term sickness, and benefit fraud. The Prime Minister described the overhaul of the welfare system as a "moral mission" during his speech on April 19, which has since sparked controversy and led to claims that the plans represent a "full-on assault on disabled people".

Sunak emphasised the current system's failures, particularly its lack of focus on what work claimants could potentially undertake. He clarified that the proposed changes, which include modifications to the Fit Note procedure, cessation of benefits for non-compliance with Work Coach directives, and a commitment to "tighten" the Work Capability Assessment, are not just about cost-cutting measures.

In addition, he revealed plans for a significant revamp of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system, with an imminent consultation set to explore potential alterations to the eligibility criteria, assessment process, and the variety of support available through the disability benefit.

Mr Sunak has stated that the proposed changes to PIP will result in a "more objective and rigorous approach" within the benefits system. He suggested that more medical evidence might be needed to support a PIP claim, and that individuals with mental health issues could be offered talking therapies or respite care instead of cash transfers.

The Prime Minister stated that "people with less severe mental health conditions should be expected to engage with the world of work", outlining the UK Government's new plans, reports the Daily Record. However, Scope, a disability equality charity, expressed surprise at the extent of the proposed PIP changes, describing it as feeling "like a full-on assault on disabled people" that could leave some "destitute".

The PIP reform would only apply in England and Wales, as 218,859 people in Scotland currently receiving PIP will transition to Adult Disability Payment (ADP) and the devolved Social Security Scotland IT system by the end of 2025. James Taylor from Scope revealed that calls were "pouring into our helpline" from worried disabled individuals.

He commented: "In a cost of living crisis, looking to slash disabled people's income by hitting PIP is a horrific proposal. Sanctions and ending claims will only heap more misery on people at the sharp end of our cost of living crisis."

Other proposed changes to the benefits system

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans to make the following changes to the welfare system.

Removing benefits from the long-term unemployed who do not accept a job

Over 450,000 individuals have been jobless for six months and more than 250,000 have been unemployed for a year. The UK Government asserts that there's no reason these people shouldn't be employed given the current availability of over 900,000 job vacancies.

In the forthcoming parliament, new legislation will be proposed to alter the rules. This means anyone who has been on benefits for a year and fails to meet the conditions set by their Work Coach - including accepting available work - will have their unemployment claim terminated and their benefits completely withdrawn.

Amending Work Capability Assessments

The Prime Minister confirmed plans to tighten the Work Capability Assessment so that those with less severe conditions are expected to engage with the employment sector and receive support to do so.

He pointed out that under the existing Work Capability Assessment, too many individuals are effectively dismissed as unfit for work without being offered the chance to access crucial support that could help them find a job.

He clarified that the UK Government is dedicated to abolishing the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) entirely and introducing a new personalised approach to employment support. The goal is to assist disabled individuals and those with health conditions to reach their full potential.

The anticipated reforms are projected to decrease the number of people assessed as not needing to prepare for work by 424,000 by 2028/29.

Review of the Fit Note process

The Prime Minister has also announced a review of the Fit Note system to prevent people from being automatically categorised as "not fit for work". Instead, he aims to design a new scheme where each fit note discussion emphasises what individuals are capable of doing provided they have appropriate support rather than highlighting their limitations.

This entails the UK Government considering the transfer of responsibility for issuing Fit Notes from primary care to free up crucial time for GPs. This is all aimed at crafting a system that caters to an individual's health and occupational needs better.

The government has published a request for evidence to garner responses from a variety of viewpoints. These include those with first-hand experience, healthcare professionals, and employers, offering input on how the current procedures operate and how it can enhance support for people with health conditions in initiating, maintaining, and thriving in employment.

It's vital to remember that while Fit Note policy and laws apply to Great Britain, Fit Notes are administered within health systems, which undergo devolution, indicating this shift might not occur in Scotland.

Accelerating the transition of legacy benefits to Universal Credit

The Universal Credit rollout will be sped up to shift all those remaining on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) onto the modern IT system.

Adjustments to Administrative Earnings Threshold

The Prime Minister has announced that from next month, individuals working less than half of a full-time week will be required to seek additional employment. The UK Government has already outlined plans to raise the Administrative Earnings Threshold (AET), which determines the level of support an individual receives based on their current earnings and hours worked.

Those earning below the AET will be placed in the Intensive Work Search Group and will need to regularly meet with their Work Coach.

The threshold is set to increase from £743 to £892 for individual claimants and from £1,189 to £1,437 for couples - equivalent to 18 hours at the National Living Wage per week for an individual, starting in May.

The UK Government has stated that these changes will result in over 180,000 Universal Credit claimants being moved into the Intensive Work Search group, from the Light Touch group.

This means that an additional 400,000 claimants will receive more intensive support from Work Coaches. Claimant commitments will be tailored to personal circumstances, taking into account caring responsibilities and any health conditions.

Fraud prevention

A new Fraud Bill will be introduced in the next Parliament.

The measures in the Bill will give the UK Government new powers to:

  • carry out warrants for searches

  • seizures and arrests

  • enforce civil penalties more consistently and flexibly, and to a wider group of offenders

  • provide new powers to gather information from more information holders as part of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) led investigations into fraud

These new measures will supplement the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which the UK Government is introducing. This legislation will allow the DWP to gain access to third-party information that could potentially indicate fraudulent activities.

The UK authorities have expressed that this constitutes one of the most noteworthy amendments to benefit fraud laws in over 20 years, predicting savings for taxpayers of £600 million by 2028/29.

They further explained that this scheme aims to establish a welfare system that's "fit for the future by providing vital support only to those who need it most and ensuring they are supported to live with dignity and independence, whilst making sure that everyone who can work is expected and supported to do so".

However, Erica Young--the Social Justice policy officer at Citizens Advice Scotland--expressed differing views: "The Prime Minister is right to want to support people into work and about the positive effects work can have for people living with a chronic condition, but rhetoric around 'sick note culture' simply does not match the reality of our social security system, and the importance of supportive relationships with GPs to those struggling with work due to their health."

"Increasingly CABs are advising people who do not have enough to live on because years of soaring bills have wiped out their financial resilience. Many disabled clients in receipt of social security payments are choosing between buying food and charging essential medical equipment. Many are not accessing support at all."

She further stated: "There is a real risk this sort of language can create a culture of fear and put people off seeking any type of help, including the support offered in Scotland based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect."