Disabled people face ‘unacceptable’ delays in benefit claims

Published on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 12:23
Written by Daniel Mason

The length of time disabled people have had to wait to discover whether they are eligible for benefits is unacceptable, MPs have told the government.

In a report published today, the work and pensions select committee said that urgent action was needed to speed up claims for personal independence payments, the coalition's replacement for the disability living allowance, which launched in April 2013.

The committee's chair, Dame Anne Begg, said disabled and sick people had faced waits of six months or more for a decision on their eligibility. "Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated," she said.

"This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable."

Personal independent payments (PIP) are worth between £21 and £134.40 a week to those aged between 16 and 64 with a long-term health condition or disability. Eligibility is determined by regular assessments of how the condition affects the claimant.

According to MPs, just 20% of new claims submitted since April 2013 had received a decision.

Begg, a Labour MP, said: "It is vital that all disabled people, but especially the terminally ill, experience as little delay and stress as possible in making a claim. Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often."

She welcomed the Department for Work and Pensions' acceptance that the service provided by Atos and Capita, the private providers of the health assessments, was "not acceptable", but added: "Urgent action is also required.

"The DWP should not only consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts, but must look at its own systems to ensure that the current dire situation is resolved." Among the committee's recommendations was a call for the DWP to devote more resources to ensuring that the seven day target for processing PIP claims from terminally ill people is met.

Responding to the report, a DWP spokesman put the delays down to the new requirement for face-to-face health assessments and interviews. "In some cases this end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of disability living allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form."

He added: "Claims for terminally ill people are fast-tracked and Macmillan has acknowledged that improvements in the system have already been made."

Meanwhile the committee also called on the government to ensure that local authorities have sufficient funding for local welfare support schemes, which have replaced the previous system of centrally administered emergency hardship payments.

Begg said: "From April 2015 local authorities will be expected to finance emergency hardship payments from their overall grant settlement without any guarantee of additional money. The government must ensure that there is adequate provision for people who need it."

She said it was particularly important to protect vulnerable people who have also been affected by other welfare changes including reforms to housing benefit and the overall benefit cap.

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