The case is one of two reported on this week by Disability News Service (DNS), which illustrate how the lengthy delays with the implementation of personal independence payment (PIP) are having a catastrophic impact on many disabled people’s lives.
Saskia Wilce’s mother Amelia was only forced to apply for PIP because the government insisted that the completed renewal form for her daughter’s disability living allowance (DLA) last September arrived too late, even though she posted it at least 11 days before the deadline.
She had only left it that late because she wanted to wait until after an appointment with her daughter’s cardiologist.
But because the deadline was supposedly missed – although government advisers claimed it was both two and four days late – the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) transferred Saskia to PIP as a new claimant, even though some people are reporting waits of up to eight or nine months before they hear the result of their claim.
Motability told DNS it has dealt with about 100 such cases, in which customers have been forced to apply for PIP because they had missed the deadline for reapplying for their DLA, and who then had their vehicle repossessed while waiting for the PIP claim to be processed.
Amelia didn’t find out the claim had been transferred to PIP – following a decision by the “late claim panel” on 27 September – until November, when she received a PIP claim form and rang DWP to ask what had happened to her daughter’s DLA.
Because Saskia, who is now 16 and attends a special school, is no longer receiving DLA or PIP, the family’s Motability vehicle was taken away on 27 January.
Losing DLA – Saskia was receiving the middle rate care and the higher rate mobility components – has also meant the family lose a range of connected allowances and benefits, including carer’s allowance, the disability part of child tax credits, and assistance with winter heating bills.
At the end of this month, Amelia, a single parent from Oxfordshire, is set to lose another £70-a-week in income support and £30-a-week help with the mortgage, and free prescriptions, dental treatment and school dinners (£2.50 a day for each of her three children).
She now thinks the family will have to survive on child tax credit and child benefit of about £800 a month. Out of that she will have to pay the £400 mortgage, gas, electricity and water bills, four mobile phones, broadband, insurance, transport, TV licence and council tax, as well as having to feed and clothe the family.
She said: “The PIP would be for Saskia but because she is not getting it I am not getting the other stuff that we need as a family.”
She sobbed as she described the impact the problems with PIP were having on her daughter and twin boys.
“Saskia knows what’s going on, she knows there is a problem. She think it is all her fault. And it’s not fair on my boys, because they have had to go without as well.”
She added: “If Saskia has a melt-down at school now, I am 16 miles away. I can’t get to parent forums and groups for children with autism.”
They are finally due to attend the assessment on Tuesday (18 March), but many PIP claimants face lengthy delays after their assessment before they discover whether their claim has been successful.
Amelia said: “There doesn’t seem to be anyone who is giving me any hope.
“When I spoke to PIP in November they said they could see it was urgent and would try and push it through, but when we spoke to Atos they did not have a clue.”
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the cases raised by DNS “illustrate some of the real problems being faced by people who have applied for the new PIP”.
She said: “There are very, very long delays in getting a determination and a six-month wait is not unusual.
“Claimants, and their MPs, are finding it difficult to find out any information at all about the stage of their claim, often being bounced between the DWP and either Atos or Capita [the other private sector provider of assessments].
“While payments will be back-dated if a claim is successful, this doesn’t take into account the real hardship being faced by families who are waiting and who need the money now to pay for the extra costs they are facing as a result of disability.”
A Motability spokesman said that its vehicles have to be returned within three weeks if a customer’s DLA ends “for any reason”.
He said: “If a customer has any issues with DWP regarding their DLA, it is important that they also keep us updated so that we can provide whatever advice and support may be possible in each individual case.
“It is also very important that disabled people renewing their DLA awards do so within the timeframes set by DWP; otherwise, their award may end and DWP may require them to submit an application for the new PIP benefit.
“New applications for PIP may take up to six months for DWP to process and during that time, the disabled person will not be receiving either DLA or PIP and, as a consequence, will not be able to lease a vehicle through the Motability scheme.”
But Amelia pointed out that when she found out in November that DWP was not renewing her daughter’s DLA, she asked about the Motability car and was told that it would be covered by PIP if her daughter met the criteria.
But she added: “They didn’t say I needed to contact Motability, just that I had to wait for the assessment.”
It was only when she received a letter from Motability early in January that she realised they were to lose the car.
She added: “So why didn’t DWP give me the right information? How come they are allowed to drag their heels and cause deliberate delays so that people like us get penalised?”
Atos said it did not comment on individual cases.
But an Atos spokeswoman said it was taking “immediate action” to reduce delays.
She said Atos was “working to extend our network of healthcare partners and we are directly recruiting more staff, both health professionals and administration, to increase capacity”.
“In the meantime, we are looking at ways in which we can keep our customers better informed, including direct letters and more information on our website.
“We are also being transparent with national support organisations and providing them with helpful information.”
DWP said it would not comment on an individual case, but a spokeswoman said: “In some cases the end-to-end claims process for PIP is taking longer than expected.
“PIP includes a new face-to-face assessment – to ensure support is targeted at those who need it the most – so there is an additional element to the process that was missing from the old system. All payments are backdated so no claimants are left out of pocket.”
14 March 2014