Growing evidence from figures released by the government suggests disabled people are facing significant and increasing delays and backlogs in the personal independence payment (PIP) system.
The figures show striking delays in clearing PIP claims, but also in answering telephone queries about the benefit.
Disability News Service (DNS) has spoken to one claimant who already receives the standard rate of PIP for both mobility and daily living.
He has been waiting for a reassessment since last June as his support needs have significantly increased, due to worsening arthritis that means both his knees will need to be replaced.
He is also coping with prostate cancer.
He is desperate to move from the standard to the enhanced rate of PIP mobility so he can lease an automatic car through the Motability scheme, as using the clutch to change gears in his current vehicle is “an absolute nightmare” because of his arthritis.
He has been waiting since submitting an application for a PIP reassessment on 10 June last year.
He has now been waiting more than 240 days, and he is still waiting for a telephone assessment.
He has also twice called the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for an update on his claim, and the first time he called the PIP helpline it took more than 45 minutes for his call to be answered, while the second time, last month, it took 26 minutes.
David*, from north Somerset, said: “I find it unbelievable that it takes this long.
“It really is quite stressful. It’s a hell of a long time to wait. It just seems to be dragging on and on and on, and it’s not just me, I know there are loads of people in this position.”
A picture of significant delays and backlogs has begun to build up over the last three months through a series of answers from the minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, to written questions from Labour MPs.
When Smith was questioned in September by Ian Lavery about the backlog of PIP claims, she told him that the pandemic had caused “distortion” and that “work is ongoing to manage the recovery”.
She said then that average clearance times for new PIP claims in July 2021 were similar to those of 12 months before.
But she didn’t point out that the time it takes to clear a PIP claim (see section 7) has been on an upward trend since 2018, well before the start of the pandemic.
A month later, Smith pointed Labour MP Dan Carden to the answer she had given Lavery when he also asked her about the PIP backlog.
In early December, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, asked the minister for the average PIP waiting-time.
Smith directed her to the same set of government statistics, which showed the average clearance time from beginning to end of a PIP claim was 23 weeks in July 2021, compared with 23 weeks in July 2020, 16 weeks in July 2019, and 14 weeks in July 2018.
She also told Foxcroft that there were more than 296,000 claimants waiting for a PIP assessment at the end of October last year, and she added: “We are committed to assessing people as quickly as possible and are working with providers to ensure claimants receive the support to which they are entitled as quickly as possible.”
Last month, Labour’s Justin Madders asked Smith how long on average it took for calls about new PIP claims to be answered by the department.
She told him the average wait had risen from 36 seconds in December 2020 to more than 12 minutes in October last year, although it dropped to about eight minutes in November 2021.
Smith also told him that the number of calls answered by the PIP new claims service had risen from about 45,000 in December 2020 to more than 101,000 in November 2021.
But she told Labour MP Nadia Whittome later in January that the waiting-times for the PIP general enquiry line were much longer, with claimants having to wait on average more than 23 minutes over the previous three months.
She also told her, when asked what steps she was taking to reduce waiting-times: “Call traffic has increased significantly on the PIP enquiry line and during particularly busy periods there have been longer wait times than we would like.
“We have deployed additional resources onto the enquiry line, including recruitment of more staff.
“Additionally, we have introduced new technology that will improve information for customers when they first call, and simplified the identity and verification process.
“These enhancements will increase call handling efficiency and improve the customer experience.
“We are also developing new and better [text] messages to keep customers up to date and better informed. This will reduce the need for customers to contact the PIP enquiry line.”
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told DNS yesterday (Wednesday): “This is yet another example of the government failing to act.
“Ministers have long spoken about providing adequate support – these delays clearly show otherwise.
“Disabled people are being left to fend for themselves while they wait, it is simply unacceptable.
“People like David should be focused on their health and not have to worry about DWP incompetence.
“With the data clearly showing worrying trends around PIP delays, ministers need to get a grip and sort this problem, once and for all.”
*Not his real name
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