The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) looks set to have to carry out six separate trawls through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits because of serious errors by senior civil servants.
The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton (pictured), told MPs this week that she was “pleased” that her department was beginning three new reviews of personal independence payment (PIP) claimants.
Together with previous announcements on PIP, universal credit and employment and support allowance (ESA), this means her department will now apparently have to carry out a total of six major trawls through its benefit records to find claimants who have not been receiving the correct level of disability benefits.
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, said Newton’s statement was “the latest example of the Tory government failing disabled people”.
One of this week’s reviews is necessary because of a tribunal ruling delivered in March 2017 – concerning a PIP claimant referred to as RJ – on how DWP assesses if disabled people can carry out activities safely and need supervision to do so.
This review is likely to affect people with conditions such as epilepsy, with an estimated 10,000 PIP claimants set to benefit by £70 to £90 per week by 2022-23.
Another of the reviews will check an estimated 1.6 million PIP claims to find claimants who experience mental distress when making or planning a journey.
This review was necessary because of a court ruling in December 2017 – in the case of a claimant referred to as MH – which found that new rules introduced last year by DWP were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory” and breached the UN disability convention.
This week’s third review concerns the way DWP has been assessing an estimated 420 PIP claimants with haemophilia who have the associated condition haemarthropathy (a severe type of arthritis caused by bleeding into the joints).
But in addition to this week’s three reviews, DWP is also likely to need to trawl through the files of thousands of other PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor their health conditions.
This fourth review followed two tribunal findings – in the cases of AN and JM – that DWP should have been scoring such claimants in the same way as people needing support to manage treatment therapies such as dialysis.
A fifth review is likely to follow a high court ruling earlier this month that DWP had unlawfully discriminated against two disabled men who each lost disability premiums worth £178 per month when they moved to a new local authority area and were forced to transfer onto the new universal credit.
The sixth review has already been launched following the botched migration of an estimated 70,000 former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new employment and support allowance (ESA).
DWP failed to realise that many of these claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.
De Cordova said: “This long overdue statement is the latest example of the Tory government failing disabled people: it has now been forced to carry out six reviews to identify disabled people who were wrongly denied the social security support they were entitled to.
“In four of those cases the government only backed down because of legal challenges, but disabled people should not have to fight through the courts to get the support they need.
“The next Labour government will transform our social security system by abolishing the discredited ESA and PIP assessments, taking back contracts from private companies, and ensuring that disabled people get the support they need to live independently and with dignity.”
A DWP spokeswoman refused to answer a series of questions about her department’s string of serious errors on disability benefits.
She refused to confirm that DWP was now set to carry out six separate trawls through its records and refused to say if the department was embarrassed by so many significant errors.
She also refused to say if any senior civil servants or ministers would be taking responsibility or apologising for their errors and incompetence.
But she did say that implementing the MH judgment was likely to cost about £2 billion by 2022-23, and that implementing the RJ judgment would probably cost about £240 million.
And she said: “We’re totally committed to ensuring that disabled people and those with health conditions get the support that they need.
“Supporting people with mental health conditions remains a top priority, and more people with mental health conditions get the higher rate of both components of PIP than under disability living allowance.
“We will be working at pace to ensure everyone who is eligible receives the support they’re entitled to as soon as possible, and we remain on track to begin making payments this summer.”