Representatives from three charities – DABD (UK), Citizens Advice and Mencap – were giving evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about the implementation of personal independence payment (PIP).
Lesley Hawes, chief executive of DABD, which is based in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham and works with socially-excluded people, said her organisation was being “bombarded” with appeals for help because of delays with PIP claims.
She said claimants were being forced to rely on food parcels and the Social Fund “to a huge extent” because of these delays.
Since last year, DABD has dealt with 185 PIP claims, but only 15 of the claimants have had decisions from the Department for Work and Pensions. Hawes said that was “typical” of claimants helped by organisations in other local boroughs.
She said: “The whole timescale of waiting is ridiculous. And when we have challenged the DWP and Atos they are blaming each other for the delays.”
Among the cases DABD has been dealing with is a person with a mental health condition who needed to be admitted to hospital because it took more than seven months for them to begin receiving PIP.
Another was a client with diabetes and gastric problems who needs a specific diet, who submitted a PIP claim in September 2013, but heard nothing more. Despite two calls to DWP, she has still heard nothing from Atos about her assessment.
She is using the Social Fund and other services “to be able to survive”, but her health has deteriorated, said Hawes.
A third client, who has learning difficulties and a mental health condition, submitted a claim last August, but has so far received no response from Atos.
James Bolton, a Mencap policy officer, told the committee of a young man with learning difficulties who needed his assessment to be carried out at home, rather than in an assessment centre, but had been told by Atos that there were no appointments available for six months.
A relative was told to just “keep calling back” in case an appointment became available.
Bolton said he was told by a colleague from Parkinson’s UK about a disabled person who made a new claim for PIP last April and only received their decision earlier this month, a wait of 11 months without the financial support they needed.
Vicky Pearlman, social policy officer for Citizens Advice, said her organisation had “seen far too many examples” of claimants who had arranged home visits from Capita but no-one had turned up, with some claimants experiencing this three times.
Some claimants have arrived at Atos assessment centres to be told there was no-one there to see them, she told the committee, sometimes having travelled up to 90 minutes via public transport.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the committee, told of two women in her Barking constituency with terminal cancer who had been waiting six or seven months for an assessment.
One woman applied in August, and last week, just days before the committee hearing, she was finally given a date for an assessment.
The other woman applied in September 2013 and again had not heard anything until she was given a date for an assessment last week.
20 March 2014