The government’s implementation of its new disability benefit has been “a fiasco”, according to a hard-hitting report by a committee of MPs.
The public accounts committee said the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) had led to “long and unacceptable” delays, a growing backlog of claims, and “uncertainty, stress and financial costs” for disabled claimants.
Disability News Service has published a series of reports on claimants who have had lengthy and distressing delays with their claims, following PIP’s launch and gradual rollout from the spring of 2013, with one man having to wait more than a year before he was eventually found eligible.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said she and her colleagues had heard some “shocking” personal stories from PIP claimants, many of whom had been forced to wait more than six months to have their claim decided.
She said: “The department’s failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong.
“This resulted in significant delays, a backlog of claims and unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently.”
Some claimants have been forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations to meet their disability-related extra costs, she said.
Hodge said the standard of service provided by DWP and its contractors, Capita and Atos, had been “unacceptable”.
Claimants have found it difficult to arrange appointments, Capita and Atos have cancelled home visits at the last minute, and assessors have failed to turn up when claimants have travelled to assessment centres.
Four in 10 claimants in Atos areas have had to travel over an hour to be assessed, compared with its promise that between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of them would travel less than 30 minutes to an assessment centre.
Hodge said the process had proved to be “inaccessible and cumbersome” for claimants, increasing the risk of delays and incorrect decisions.
She said: “The department urgently needs to get this scheme up to scratch and make sure some of our most vulnerable citizens are protected when going through this process.
“What we’ve witnessed is a rushed, wholly unacceptable job, and the department should take a long hard look at what went wrong.”
Among the report’s recommendations, it calls for the PIP application process to be made easier; for all stages of the process to be speeded up; and for DWP and its contractors to provide an “acceptable level of service” by “minimising delays and travel times, making home visits when arranged, improving administrative processes, and providing better information to claimants”.
20 June 2014