One of the first claimants to be awarded the new personal independence payment (PIP) has warned that disabled people handed one-year awards could find themselves dragged back into the nightmare of lengthy backlogs and waiting-lists when they try to reapply for the benefit for a second year.
Nicola Hogg, from Surrey, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was awarded PIP – the standard rate of the daily living component, and the enhanced rate of the mobility component, but just for one year – in late December 2013, more than six months after she lodged her claim.
She is angry that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) only informs claimants that they need to reapply for their award three months before it is due to end. She was told just 14 weeks before her PIP award ends that she would need to reapply.
Hogg says that some new claimants are still waiting longer than a year to be assessed for their eligibility for PIP, and the government contractor Atos warned her last week that “most people do need to be seen by a health professional for a consultation” while “in most cases it could take 26 weeks or longer before we are able to arrange your appointment”.
Hogg has told Atos in an email that she fears this “ludicrous” situation means that her PIP award will run out in early December, before Atos has had a chance to process her fresh application.
This will leave a gap in which she will lose PIP payments and secondary benefits – in her case, she receives a blue parking badge and is exempt from paying vehicle tax. Although the PIP payments will be backdated if they are eventually awarded, these secondary benefits will not.
She fears many PIP claimants will also be at risk of losing their Motability vehicles because the scheme demands that cars are returned if payment of the enhanced rate of the PIP mobility component ceases.
It is a situation she believes will hit many thousands of other disabled people like her – most of whom would have assumed they had escaped the nightmare of lengthy waits for their new PIP claims to be dealt with – over the next few months.
She adds in her email to Atos: “And this happens even when the claimant follows procedure to the letter and returns all necessary documentation promptly.”
Hogg has pointed out that DWP regulations state that repeat claims can be lodged up to six months before an award is due to expire, but – despite the delays and backlogs – DWP has failed to inform claimants.
She said: “So, the DWP has allowed a six months window for reapplication prior to the end of an existing award for PIP… yet it is keeping rather quiet about it; which is an absolute disgrace.
“At the very least the DWP should be advising people to reapply for PIP six months prior to their existing claim coming to and end, and I want to know why this is not being done.
“I think Mark Harper [the Conservative minister for disabled people] needs to look into this as a matter of some urgency, as it is a failing of the DWP.”
She said that even allowing a six-month window to reapply for PIP would not solve the problem entirely, as delays with claims are frequently longer than that.
After informing DWP of her concerns, she was told in an email by Karen Studley, DWP’s quality manager for its benefits directorate: “In view of the delays we have been experiencing with PIP claims, I understand your worries and we will try to make sure that a further claim is dealt with as quickly as possible.”
So far, DWP has refused to comment to DNS.
PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance – has been beset by problems, delays and backlogs since it was launched in April 2013.
Some disabled people have had to wait more than a year just to be assessed for the new benefit, while Atos – one of two government contractors carrying out the assessments – has had to fend off claims that it misled the government over how many assessment centres it would provide across London and the south of England.
Meanwhile, Disabled People Against Cuts is looking for PIP claimants willing to consider joining a legal action over the delays in processing PIP claims. Anyone who has faced a lengthy delay and is interested in taking part in the legal action can email [email protected].
16 October 2014