The Ulster Unionist Party has learned that the Department for Communities has recently revoked the legal indemnity used to protect PIP appeal panel members when accessing medical notes.This means that individual panel members are personally liable for any data breach in accordance with GDPR. As a result, many are now refusing to look at medical notes at all and this is having a detrimental impact on the plight of those appealing their eligibility for the disability benefit.
Ulster Unionist Councillor, Nicholas Trimble, said:
“There has been a lot of coverage in recent years about the number of decisions which are being challenged regarding the change of the DLA award to the new PIP award. The Appeals Service NI is currently swamped with the sheer volume of decisions which are being challenged, largely PIP decisions, which has resulted in people having to wait months for a hearing, sometimes even over a year. Normally, when appealing a PIP decision, the appellant can give their consent for the panel to access their medical notes to help make a fairer decision.
“Last week I helped represent a family at their PIP appeal. During the hearing the panel explained that they would not be accessing the medical notes at all, despite the appellant’s explicit consent to do so. We were offered an adjournment by the panel but were advised that it would be indefinitely. This change from the Department for Communities is going to negatively affect virtually every appeal hearing going forward, and will compound the already significant delays being faced."
The Ulster Unionist spokesperson for Communities, Robbie Butler MLA, added:
“This change is a dereliction of responsibility by the Department. It will inevitably be a major impediment to people going through this process. I understand that Appeal Panel members now have to make a personal decision as to whether they want to continue, but given the Department has removed the legal cover it is not surprising that we are already seeing some panel members withdrawing themselves from the whole appeal process.
“I have now been in urgent contact with the Permanent Secretary in the Department for Communities asking her why this change even happened in the first place and how it can be resolved as soon as possible. There is no doubt at all that unless this decision is overhauled it will greatly affect large numbers of those who are already some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”