The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must act urgently to deal with the “dire situation” and “unacceptable” delays facing claimants of the government’s new disability benefit, according to a committee of MPs.
The work and pensions select committee said in a report published this week that some claims for personal independence payment (PIP) were taking more than six months to process.
Only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a seriously-ill man on a waiting-list for a liver transplant was struggling to survive financially after waiting more than six months just for a face-to-face assessment for his PIP claim.
DNS also reported how a family had their Motability vehicle taken away because of a six-month delay with their PIP claim.
The committee called on ministers to abandon plans to roll out PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance – until they had dealt with the backlog of claims, and reduced the average time taken to process new claims to the expected 74 days.
It also called for DWP to devote “all necessary resources” to meeting the seven-day target for dealing with PIP claims from people with terminal illnesses.
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the committee, said the “severe stress and uncertainty” being faced by disabled people claiming PIP was “completely unacceptable”, and she called for DWP to take “immediate steps” to ensure that claimants were given accurate information when they asked about progress with their claim.
The committee said that DWP should consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts with the two companies carrying out the PIP assessments – Atos Healthcare and Capita – but must also address problems within its own systems.
Dame Anne said: “Many disabled or sick people face waits of six months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated.
“This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.”
She added: “Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often.”
The committee’s report – based on its scrutiny of DWP’s annual report and accounts for 2012-13 – was also critical of the department’s use of statistics.
It said that government statistics “should be used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views and preconceptions”, and called on DWP to explain how it would ensure statistics were “released in a way which is accurate, and fair to benefit claimants”.
The committee said that the government’s efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people risked being undermined if the language used by DWP ministers to the media and in press releases accompanying releases of benefit statistics “adopts a tone which feeds into negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits, including disabled people”.
Many disabled activists say such stories have led to increased levels of disability hate crime.
And last November, disabled campaigners Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers delivered a petition to parliament calling on Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to be held to account for his “dodgy” use of statistics to try to justify his welfare reforms.
Their petition, which secured more than 100,000 names – organised through the change.org website – was formally presented to parliament by two Labour shadow ministers.
18 March 2014