‘Safely’ in personal independence payment | CPAG

‘Safely’ in personal independence payment

01 February 2018
Issue 262 (February 2018)

Activities in the personal independence payment (PIP) test must be capable of being carried out ‘safely’. That word is defined in regulations, but has been the subject of an important decision of the Upper Tribunal and, most recently, updated official guidance. Ed Pybus explains.

The regulations

In order to determine entitlement to personal independence payment (PIP), a claimant’s ability to undertake certain activities is assessed, using a range of descriptors to determine the level at which the claimant can complete the activity. The regulations provide that in the PIP assessment, a particular descriptor only applies if the claimant can carry out the activity, at that level ‘reliably’. This includes being able to perform the activity among other things, ‘safely’.1 Some activities include a descriptor that awards points if the activity can only be completed with assistance or supervision. The regulations define these concepts further: ‘“safely” means in a manner unlikely to cause harm to C [the claimant] or to another person, either during or after the activity’2 and ‘“supervision” means the continuous presence of another person for the purpose of ensuring C’s safety’.3

The Upper Tribunal

Last year, three joined cases were looked at by a three-judge panel of the Upper Tribunal where these issues were considered. The resulting decision was RJ, GMcL and CS v SSWP (PIP) [2017] UKUT 105 (AAC). This decision must be followed by decision makers and First-tier Tribunals in preference to that of a single Upper Tribunal judge.

Drawing on the approach taken by the House of Lords4 when looking at the likelihood of harm in the context of protecting people against future harm, the judges held that the approach taken in previous caselaw, which referred to the infrequency or remoteness of harm occurring and the need for the descriptor to be satisfied most of the time, was incorrect. Instead the Upper Tribunal concluded that:

‘an assessment under the PIP Regulations that an activity cannot be carried out safely does not require that the occurrence of harm is “more likely than not”. A tribunal must consider whether there is a real possibility that cannot be ignored of harm occurring, having regard to the nature and gravity of the feared harm in the particular case. Both the likelihood of the harm occurring and the severity of the consequences are relevant. The same approach applies to the assessment of a need for supervision.’

So decision makers and First-tier Tribunals should not consider that a claimant can undertake an activity safely if there is a real possibility of harm to either the claimant or another person.


The decision in RJ also held that Judge Jacobs was correct when in IM v SSWP [2015] UKUT 680 (AAC), he stated that‘a risk that gives rise to a need for supervision need not be a risk that is unique to a particular activity […] It is sufficient if it is a general risk’. So if there is a real possibly of harm, either to a claimant or to others, if the claimant isn’t supervised, the claimant may score points under the descriptors that include supervision, regardless of whether or not the risk of harm is related to the activity.

Updated guidance

The Secretary of State is not appealing against RJ and has issued guidance and updated the PIP assessment guide to take account of the judgment. The PIP assessment guide now states that it is necessary to consider the likelihood of harm and the severity of harm that may occur.5

Also, guidance issued to decision makers advises that three factors should be used when considering whether an activity can be performed safely:6

  • the frequency of incidents [that could cause harm];
  • the severity of harm caused by an incident;


  • the extent to which the condition is predictable, controlled or the risk can be mitigated.

The frequency and severity of harm are highlighted in RJ as relevant factors. The guidance to decision makers goes on to advise that it is important to consider the likelihood that the incident occurs at the exact moment when an individual is undertaking an activity that could cause harm. The example the guidance uses is of a claimant who has one seizure a day, but only spends 45 minutes per day cooking; it therefore concludes that the likelihood of the seizures occurring at the time s/he is cooking is low, suggesting s/he would be able to undertake the activity safely.7 It is arguable that this analysis fails the ‘real possibility test’ outlined in RJ.

The predictability of an incident occurring is not covered in detail by the judges in RJ, but in one of the cases under consideration they note that the First-tier Tribunal’s reasons for awarding points under Activity 4 due to the unpredictability of her seizures was consistent with its own approach. This suggests that the predictability, or otherwise, of an ‘incident’ occurring would be relevant.

Mitigation of risk

Many of the examples in the guidance to decision makers cover the ways in which a claimant could be expected to mitigate the risks, and therefore undertake the activity safely. There is no discussion of mitigation of risk in the judgment.

While in some instances mitigation of the risks may be reasonable, in some it may not. Under the regulations, the claimant must still be able to undertake the activity ‘to an acceptable standard’.8 Also, in PE v SSWP (PIP) [2015] UKUT 309 (AAC), reported as [2016]

AACR 10, Judge Jacobs held that a tribunal is entitled to ‘consider reasonable and practical alternatives’ when assessing a claimant’s ability to complete an activity, but also noted: ‘There must be a balance struck that prevents claimants generating their own entitlement while at the same time not allowing their own disability to be used against them.’ These comments were made regarding Activity 6 but could potentially apply to other activities and the reasonableness of mitigating risk.

Reviewing awards

The second part of the guidance to decision makers discusses the process for revising awards.9 It states that all decisions made between the date of the judgment in RJ (ie, 9 March 2017) and the date of the guidance (November 2017), and all PIP awards in payment on the date of the judgment, will be reviewed in an ‘independent exercise’. It also outlines the process that the DWP should take when reconsidering awards that may be affected by RJ.


Advisers should be aware that if there is a real possibility of harm occurring, then the claimant cannot be considered to be able to undertake the activity safely. Advisers should be prepared to explain why the claimant cannot mitigate the risk.

If a claimant’s awards would be increased as a result of RJ, the awards should be reviewed by the DWP, but the claimant can request a supersession or revision of her/his award instead.

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. Reg 4(2A)(a) Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regs 2013, SI No.377 ('SS(PIP) Regs’)
  • 2. Reg 4(4)(a) SS(PIP) Regs
  • 3. Sch 1 SS(PIP) Regs
  • 4. In Re H and others (minors)(sexual abuse: standard of proof) [1996] AC 563
  • 5. DWP, PIP Assessment Guide: part 2 – the assessment criteria, para 2.1.15
  • 6. Memo ADM 29/17
  • 7. para 16 Memo ADM 29/17 8 Reg 4(2A)(b) SS(PIP) Regs
  • 8. Reg 4(2A)(b) SS (PIP) Regs
  • 9. Memo ADM 30/17