A court has heard how a disabled woman struggled to afford to feed herself and heat her home because of delays with her claim for the government’s new disability benefit.
Lawyers representing the woman, known as Ms C, and another disabled person, were at the high court this week to argue that delays in applications for personal independence payment (PIP) were so unreasonable as to be unlawful.
The two-day judicial review of the PIP system heard how disabled people had been forced to wait up to 13 months for their applications to be dealt with by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Disability News Service (DNS) first began reporting on delays and backlogs in the system in late 2013.
In January, one disabled woman told DNS how she had been forced to wait more than 14 months to be assessed for PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance.
Government figures released the same month showed that ministers had broken their high-profile promise to slash all PIP waiting-times to less than four months by the end of 2014.
Although the average waiting-time for a PIP assessment had fallen from 30 weeks to 14 weeks, the figures suggested that, by the end of 2014, nearly 60,000 claimants had been waiting longer than 16 weeks to be assessed.
By the end of March 2015, according to new figures published in advance of this week’s court hearing, nearly 23,000 disabled people had been waiting longer than 20 weeks for their new PIP claim to be decided, down from 41,000 in January 2015.
Of those 23,000, more than 3,000 had been waiting longer than a year.
The figures* do not show how many people had been waiting longer than the government target of 16 weeks.
Anne-Marie Irwin, the lawyer at Irwin Mitchell leading the cases, said before the hearing: “Too many people have been left in the lurch as a result of flaws in the system.
“We hope our legal challenge will force the DWP to reconsider its decision to continue with the roll out of PIP until flaws in the system are resolved, so that future applicants do not have to face such gross delays for this essential support.”
Ms C applied for PIP in January 2014 after her health condition worsened and she had to leave her job, but she did not receive the benefit until October, just one day after court proceedings were originally issued on her behalf by Irwin Mitchell.
She said last year: “The delay has had a massive impact on my life. I applied for PIP so I could look after myself, but without it I can barely eat and only ever leave my house for a weekly trip to a supermarket.
“While PIP wouldn’t solve all of my problems, without it I just feel financially and socially isolated.”
Irwin Mitchell has already helped seven disabled people secure decisions on their delayed PIP applications.
*These figures do not include PIP claimants with terminal illnesses, who are dealt with far more quickly under “special rules”