A minister has been told to carry out an urgent investigation after the number of disabled people whose disability benefits were stopped when they failed to return a vital form rose by more than 450 per cent in four years.
The figures, released by Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, show that in 2017, just 7,500 claims for personal independence payment (PIP) were “disallowed” because the claimant failed to return the AR1 award review form.
But by 2021 this had risen to 42,100, an increase of 461 per cent.
The figures had been requested by disabled Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, following last week’s reports on the death of Laura Winham, who had her disability living allowance (DLA) stopped in 2016 after she failed to respond to requests to apply for the new PIP.
It is believed she died the following year, in November 2017, and at the time had access to just a handful of loose change. Her body was not discovered for more than three years.
Pursglove told de Cordova it would be too expensive to produce figures showing how many DLA and PIP disallowances there have been due to the PIP reassessment process.
But he did release figures showing how many PIP claims were “disallowed” due to non-return of the AR1 form (PDF), which is for claimants to describe “how your disability affects you” when their claim is reviewed.
They showed that the sharp rise began well before the pandemic, more than doubling from 7,500 in 2017 to 15,800 in 2018.
Despite falling slightly the following year, the number of disabled people having a “disallowance” increased from 14,100 in 2019 to 25,400 in 2020 and then 42,100 in 2021.
Pursglove told de Cordova that claimants with “serious mental health, or cognitive conditions who have difficulty communicating or engaging with the process” are marked as needing “additional support” (AS) on the PIP system and so should not be disallowed without an assessment.
And he said that PIP claimants who are “identified or deemed as vulnerable” will be marked as “additional customer support” and should also be protected from disallowance if they fail to return the AR1 form.
De Cordova is recovering from an operation, and so was not available to comment on the figures this week.
But Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the figures were “very concerning” and called on the government to investigate them “as a matter of urgency”.
She said she was not reassured by Pursglove’s response and would be pushing ministers for an explanation for the figures, and to investigate whether the disallowances have led to the deaths of any disabled people.
Foxcroft said: “A Labour government will be transparent with all data and reports to ensure we get things right.
“We are also committed to co-production. We acknowledge that it will take time to build capacity because successive Tory governments have systematically cut funding in this area, but we are determined to get this right.”
She said a Labour government would not only publish DWP reports but would also “act on the findings”.
A DWP spokesperson refused to say if Pursglove was alarmed by the PIP disallowance figures, particularly in the light of the death of Laura Winham; refused to provide an explanation for such a rapid increase; and refused to say if the increase was due to a deliberate policy decision by DWP.
DWP also refused to say if Pursglove was confident that no claimants marked as AS had been included in the disallowance figures; refused to say if any claimants marked ACS had been included in the figures; and refused to say what action Pursglove would take to investigate the cause of the rapid increase in disallowance figures.
But the spokesperson said in a statement: “We support millions of people every year and our priority is they get the benefits to which they are entitled to as soon as possible, and to ensure they receive a supportive and compassionate service.
“For anyone with a disability or long-term health condition, there is a strong financial safety net, including statutory sick pay, employment and support allowance and universal credit.
“Only a small proportion of PIP claims are disallowed for non-return of the AR1 form and safeguards are in place to prevent vulnerable claimants’ claims falling out of payment.”
Laura Winham’s death was only the latest in a series of similar tragedies linked to DWP’s failings.
The body of Sophia Yuferev, a talented artist who lived with significant mental distress, was discovered by police in her flat in Hornchurch, Essex, in November 2021, months after all her benefits had been removed by DWP.
Errol Graham starved to death in 2018, months after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work benefits, leaving him without any income. He weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him.
Mark Wood starved to death in 2013 after DWP found him ineligible for employment and support allowance, even though he had never been able to cope with the demands of a job and his GP had said he was incapable of working.
DWP’s failings date back at least as far as the death of Timothy Finn, who starved to death in 1999. His benefits had been stopped automatically after he failed to respond to letters posted to him by the Benefits Agency.
Picture: Laura Winham (left) and Tom Pursglove
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