The government has been criticised by disability charities after new statistics revealed that some claimants are experiencing long delays for decisions for the new disability benefit personal independence payment (PIP).
Figures from spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) have revealed that many PIP claimants are experiencing long delays to benefit decisions, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is not able to tell them how long they are likely to wait, potentially creating distress and financial difficulties.
PIP is a non-means-tested benefit to support disabled people with their daily living and mobility costs. It replaces disability living allowance (DLA) for working age people and aims to match support more closely to claimants’ needs.
By October 25, 2013, 92,000 PIP claims outstanding with assessment providers – Atos Healthcare and Capita Health and Wellbeing – almost three times the number expected by the DWP at this stage. The NAO blamed the backlog on the assessment process taking longer than expected.
In response, the DWP postponed the national rollout of ‘natural’ reassessments – scheduled for 28 October – instead phasing it in by postcode area.
Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the DWP should set out a clear plan for informing claimants about the likely delays they will experience while it works with providers to improve performance.
“It is too early to conclude on the personal independence payment programme’s overall success and all major programmes run the risk of early operational problems,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. “However, the Department did not allow enough time to test whether the assessment process could handle large numbers of claims. As a result of this poor early operational performance, claimants face long and uncertain delays and the Department has had to delay the wider roll-out of the programme. Because it may take some time to resolve the delays, the Department has increased the risk that the programme will not deliver value for money in the longer-term.”
Richard Hawkes chief executive of disability charity Scope, said that it was “unacceptable” that disabled people are facing long delays for “an essential financial life-line.”
He added: “At every turn disabled people have to pay more than other consumers. Basic things such as traveling to work or cleaning the house cost more if you are disabled.
“DLA was brought in to help people meet those extra costs. DLA needed reform, but disabled people are concerned by the fact that they are predicting how many people will lose support before they have tested everyone.”
Hawkes added that under current plans 600,000 disabled people will lose their eligibility for PIP: “If we don’t want disabled people to be left behind we should be looking at ways to protect PIP and make sure it helps meet those extra costs.”
Meanwhile, Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, said that concerns remains that that the assessments for PIP will replicate the flaws of the work capability assessment (WCA), which is used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance.
“We know [the WCA] is unfair to people with a fluctuating condition such as mental health problems. The changes to eligibility criteria mean that lots of people affected by mental health problems will miss out on this vital lifeline which can make a huge difference to their quality of life and maintaining independence. While it’s early days, we will continue to closely monitor the impact this new benefit is having on people with mental health problems.”