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Government to review 1.6m disability benefit claims after U-turn

Estimated 220,000 claimants will get backdated higher personal independence payments

The government is to review about 1.6m disability benefit claims made over the past four years as part of major U-turn that will see an estimated 220,000 claimants eventually receive backdated higher awards.

The exercise, which could cost billions and take years, comes after the government agreed earlier this month not to challenge a high court ruling in December that said it had been “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions.

The review involves identifying all claims made for personal independence payments (Pip), a benefit awarded to people to help them with the added costs of disability. Pip, formerly the disability living allowance, is not means tested and is not linked to employment status.

Claimants are assessed by health professionals employed by the private firms Atos and Capita using a points system. A claimant needs to score at least eight points for a standard award and 12 to qualify for an enhanced benefit award on each of two elements – daily living and mobility.

Last year ministers moved to stop people qualifying for enhanced payments within the mobility component of Pip for reasons of “psychological distress”. The decision led to an outcry and legal challenge from campaigners.

In a high court ruling before Christmas, Mr Justice Mostyn said: “In my judgment, the 2017 regulations introduced criteria … which were blatantly discriminatory against those with mental health impairments and which cannot be objectively justified.”

In a written statement on Monday, Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, health and work, said: “This will be a complex exercise and of considerable scale, as we will be reconsidering approximately 1.6 million claims.

“Whilst we will be working at pace to complete this exercise it is important that we get it right.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said it was not known how much the exercise would cost or how long it would take. An official impact assessment published a year ago put the cost of the review at £3.7bn.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Today’s admission that the department will have to reconsider 1.6m Pip claims to ensure that all claimants receive the correct award is shocking.

“The minister refused to publish a timetable of how many months or even years it will take for this ’complex exercise’ to be completed, despite the secretary of state being pressed on this point in the Commons last week.

“The government was wrong to bring in the Pip regulations last year and it was wrong to ignore time and time again the views of the courts. This sorry debacle is one of their own making. They must now get a grip on the Pip process and ensure all those affected by this policy receive back payments as soon as possible.”

The DWP said it was directly contacting anyone affected and additional payments would be backdated to the effective date in each claim. Claimants do not need to write to DWP in order to receive the correct award, and will not have to undergo a new assessment.