Disabled people who need to receive letters from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in alternative formats have been facing lengthy delays with their benefit claims, apparently because of a dispute between DWP and private sector contractors.
It has been claimed that a dispute between DWP and the US print services giant Xerox, and potentially other contractors as well, has led to disabled people experiencing delays receiving vital letters about their benefit claims in formats such as large print and – for people with dyslexia – on yellow paper.
Claimants across the country are believed to have been experiencing delays for at least 18 months.
Xerox may now have become the latest in a string of outsourcing giants – such as Atos, Capita and Maximus – to face allegations of incompetence over DWP benefit-related contracts.
Xerox originally claimed this week that it was not involved in the alternative formats contract.
But after being shown a link to a press release from 2007 announcing how it led a consortium that won a contract to provide DWP with “print and associated services”, a Xerox spokeswoman changed her position to say that Xerox “no longer is involved in that contract”.
She repeatedly refused to say when Xerox stopped providing these services to DWP.
A DWP spokeswoman said she believed that Xerox did still have a contract with Xerox. She had not been able to clarify the position by 1pm today (Thursday).
One disabled claimant, Michael Owen, from South Yorkshire, has had repeated problems obtaining DWP letters on yellow paper relating to his claims for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment, and the repayment of loans under the old Social Fund.
He has experienced delays of up to 13 weeks in receiving DWP letters from the alternative format team (AFT).
As a result of the delays, the former youth and community worker has missed appointments for face-to-face work capability assessments, which have led to his ESA being suspended.
He told a senior DWP manager in an email in July: “The constant stress and strain I am having to endure, not only has further impacted on my mental health, it has also rendered me feeling physically sick even when dialling the PIP and ESA numbers and no one should feel like that.”
In an email he received from a senior DWP manager in July, in response to his complaint, Owen was told: “These delays clearly fall below an acceptable level of customer service and I am sincerely sorry that you have been experiencing difficulties in receiving mail within an acceptable timescale.
“The AFT have provided an assurance that they will endeavour to process your future correspondence within 48 hours.”
Although DWP is now aware of the delays with his paperwork, he is concerned that his ESA will again be suspended – he is currently in the work-related activity group – if he fails to receive the ESA 50 form he needs on yellow paper by the deadline next month.
Owen told Disability News Service: “I can’t keep to any of their timescales because I don’t see any of their paperwork in the correct timeframe.”
He has previously been told that the problems were the fault of Royal Mail for losing the relevant letters, but he says he has now been told by a DWP manager that the delays were caused by a dispute with Xerox over its performance on the contract.
His complaint is being investigated by the independent case examiner (ICE).
A DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has its own staff who provide letters in alternative formats, to ensure these are handled as swiftly as possible.
“Once we are aware that someone needs this service, all their letters are managed by DWP directly.
“We have apologised to [Mr Owen] for the delays he experienced, and our staff now manage his post in alternative format.”
Asked when DWP began to provide this work itself, rather than contracting it out, and why it apparently decided to bring the work in-house, and when and why Xerox seems to have ended its involvement in providing these services, she failed to respond by 1pm today, and also failed to explain what had been causing the delays.
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