Northern Ireland news

Concern over 'low uptake' of PIP audio recording facilities

Audio recording is being made available for PIP benefits assessments
Brendan Hughes

DISABILITY benefit claimants have been urged to avail of audio recording facilities for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments following "low uptake" concerns.

It follows a meeting between SDLP representatives and senior officials from the Department for Communities (DfC).

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said they were told audio recording is available in some areas, but DfC was "surprised at the low uptake".

The SDLP deputy leader said it is important that everyone going through the PIP process "knows this is an option available to them".

Stormont officials had previously refused to introduce recordings of assessments, with people instead being told to buy the equipment themselves.

But it emerged in June that a roll-out is being designed by DfC following a pilot.

PIP has been gradually introduced in Northern Ireland since June 2016 to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with thousands of people re-assessed to see if they qualify for the new benefit.

Ms Mallon and party colleague Patsy McGlone met on Monday with DfC permanent secretary Tracy Meharg and other senior departmental officials.

She encouraged people to avail of the audio recording facilities, saying it would "help to resolve quickly and impartially disputes about the accuracy of PIP assessment reports".

"It can only serve to increase openness, transparency, accountability and public confidence and it is important that everyone going through the PIP process, whether for the first time or for reassessment, knows this is an option available to them," she said.

DfC has previously said its pilot of audio recording in both assessment centres and claimants' homes was "progressing very positively".

A spokesman said officials are "considering the information gathered and working to design the roll-out of access to audio recording for any customer who opts for it and will make an announcement in due course".

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