Disabled people seeking support through the benefits system appear to be facing extra delays of up to six weeks in dealing with their claims, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Royal Mail are disputing who is responsible.
Claim forms and documents provided by claimants as evidence are apparently being delayed by between four and six weeks before they are scanned onto the department’s IT system, on top of the time it takes to deal with the rest of the personal independence payment (PIP) review process.
Disability News Service (DNS) learned of the delays after being contacted by a disabled woman who had spoken to a call handler at a DWP PIP enquiry centre.
Caren Knight, from Norwich, had requested a PIP award review form because her health condition had worsened since her original claim in 2019, when she had been awarded the standard rate for both mobility and daily living.
She did not seek a mandatory reconsideration of that decision because she found the process “extremely difficult, humiliating and traumatic” and “simply felt exhausted and couldn’t face the process of interrogation and disbelief again”.
She experiences constant pain, mobility problems and extreme fatigue and due to her health worsening since 2019 she is now “housebound” and unable to care for herself, and on the four or five days a week she is restricted to bed, has to go without eating.
She said that without an increase in her PIP rate, she cannot pay for the care worker that would enable her to live independently and remain “in a clean, safe and healthy environment”.
She added: “Everything I need from outside the home such as shopping for food must be done online and must be prepared food due to my dexterity problems.
“This of course is very expensive.”
She filled in the PIP review form and posted it to DWP on 1 July, only to receive a letter two weeks later asking her to complete and return the form she had already sent.
She was told of the delay when she called DWP to find out if the department had received her completed review form.
She said: “I was told that due to a significant problem with the mail handling department, documents were now taking between four and six weeks to be scanned onto their system and thus as far as they were aware my documents had not been received or logged as received.”
She was told the mail handling delays would mean an extra four to six weeks’ wait on top of the time it usually takes to receive a PIP review decision.
She said: “I am in desperate need of a carer but can’t employ anyone to help without this review.”
She said the media appeared oblivious to the problem, while it had been reporting on lengthy delays in handling paper applications by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, blamed on on-site social distancing requirements and industrial action by the Public and Commercial Services Union.
Knight said: “I don’t understand why this is being missed by the media, but it is worthy of acknowledgement that those waiting desperately for PIP payments due to severe ill health are clearly suffering and yet again unheard.”
Less than 48 hours after DNS told DWP of her concerns, she was contacted by the department and told that her review form had been received. The confirmation came nearly six weeks after she sent the form.
A DWP spokesperson said that all documents were being scanned within 24 hours of being received from Royal Mail.
But he added: “Throughout July, Royal Mail has reported national postal delays due to the effects of COVID-19, which have affected some services.
“To limit this impact, we have increased award lengths to allow extra time for PIP forms to be received, issued duplicates when required, and are continually reviewing our processes to best meet the needs of customers.”
But a Royal Mail spokesperson appeared to dispute the accuracy of the DWP statement.
She said: “The health and safety of our colleagues and our customers is our number one priority.
“In a limited number of areas, we are experiencing some disruption to service due to COVID-related absences.
“We aim to deliver to all addresses we have mail for, six days a week.
“If resourcing issues, associated self-isolation and safety measures prevent this, we’ll deliver at least every other day.
“It’s only in extreme cases – where offices are severely affected by absence levels – that this may not be possible.”
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