New evidence has emerged of serious delays with the roll-out of the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP), after the parents of a disabled teenager told how he had been left for months without his disability benefits.
They have been waiting nearly three months without any communication from Atos Healthcare, the company carrying out the PIP assessments in London and the south of England.
The parents of Kai Rollinson, who live with their son on the outskirts of London, submitted his PIP form in early September, but have had no written communication from Atos since then.
Kai has been without benefits since he turned 16 in July, while his mother has lost her carer’s allowance, and the family have slipped into debt.
Kai’s step-father, Nick Grason, said the family had been told by DWP when they complained that there had been problems and delays with PIP and that they should complain to Atos.
He said: “It is extremely frustrating and stressful. You can never really speak to anyone at Atos who takes responsibility or actually comes back to you.”
Although they have had confirmation on the phone from Atos that Kai’s application form did arrive, there has been no written communication, even though DWP told them the assessment process should take only four to six weeks.
This week’s concerns have alarmed disabled campaigners, who fear they are further signs that the entire reform process – in which working-age disability living allowance is slowly being replaced by the new PIP – is in trouble.
Jane Young, an independent consultant who gives advice to the Department for Work and Pensions on aspects of the PIP reforms, said: “Unfortunately this is just more evidence of a degree of chaos.
“There appear to be significant delays at every stage in the claims process and some claimants are understandably finding it stressful to have to wait many weeks for a decision.
“Feedback from all over the country indicates that the process is taking a great deal longer than expected.
“DWP staff fully acknowledge the problems, but changing anything at the department feels a bit like trying to turn a supertanker.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We will not be commenting on this individual case. We will, however, be in touch with the individual directly with an update.”
Atos has refused to comment, but its problems with both its PIP and DLA assessment work appear to be mounting.
DWP had to delay the start of the PIP reassessment process from 7 October to 28 October, after the then minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, was forced by a judicial review taken by disabled people to order a new consultation on proposals to tighten the walking distance criteria for the PIP enhanced mobility rate from 50 to 20 metres.
DWP was then forced to order further delays to the reassessment of many existing DLA claimants, with nearly all of the reassessments due to take place in Atos areas delayed.
DWP decision-makers have also been left without expert medical advice for their more difficult DLA and attendance allowance claims, after Atos withdrew from much of the contract.
Atos has apparently been carrying out some assessments of new PIP claimants – those who haven’t previously claimed DLA – but there are no figures yet to demonstrate how many have actually taken place.
In October, DNS revealed that crisis meetings had taken place at jobcentres across the country because Atos had a serious shortage of doctors able to carry out assessments.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office is continuing its investigation into the award of at least one of the PIP contracts to Atos – following a DNS investigation – as part of a study into the new benefit and its implementation.
Atos had won the contract by boasting that it had arranged a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England, before later confessing that it had only secured 96.
The huge drop in the number of Atos assessment centres will lead to much higher average journey times by PIP claimants than Atos had promised in order to win the contract.
Even without the new PIP contracts, Atos was already performing more than 10,000 tests a week to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit for employment and support allowance (ESA), as well as assessing thousands of new ESA claimants every week.
28 November 2013