The new minister for disabled people has brought forward plans to roll out the government’s new disability benefit to those with the highest support needs despite continuing lengthy delays for thousands of claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions had been planning to start in October reassessing people with indefinite or long-term disability living allowance (DLA) awards for their eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP).
But the new minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson (pictured), announced today (Thursday) that these reassessments would instead begin for some claimants in some postcodes in the northwest of England and the Midlands – those beginning BB, BL, DE, LE, M, OL, PR, ST, WA and WN – next month (13 July).
The government’s target is that all existing working-age DLA claimants will have been reassessed for PIP by late 2017.
PIP has already been rolled out across Britain for new claimants, and those who choose to claim PIP instead of DLA, those whose circumstances change, and those whose DLA award has come to an end, including children reaching the age of 16.
In a written statement, Tomlinson said he had decided to bring forward the last stage of the PIP rollout after new government figures published last month showed that the average waiting time between someone returning their assessment form and having their assessment was now just four weeks.
He said: “This improved performance means I am pleased to announce that we are now in a position to begin the final phase in July, initially at small volumes and in a limited number of areas.”
But his announcement came only two weeks after Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that reception staff at one of the two companies assessing people for their PIP eligibility had been sent scripts telling them how to explain to claimants why their appointments have been cancelled.
Disabled people across Wales and central England are turning up for pre-booked appointments to be assessed by Capita for their eligibility for PIP, only to be told that their appointment is no longer available due to “assessor availability”.
Because of a shortage of assessors, the outsourcing giant is having to recruit 90 more healthcare professionals, just five months after making an estimated 80 of its 400 assessors redundant.
DNS first began reporting on delays and backlogs in the PIP system in late 2013. In January this year, one disabled woman described how she had been forced to wait more than 14 months to be assessed.
But Tomlinson has boasted of the “massive improvement” in the system and claims that ministers took “swift action” to correct earlier problems, and “drove the assessment providers to make radical improvement to their service”.
Earlier this month, the high court ruled that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had been “unreasonable”, “irrational” and acted “unlawfully” by delaying PIP payments to two disabled people for up to 13 months.
By the end of March 2015, according to government figures published in May, nearly 23,000 disabled people had been waiting longer than 20 weeks for their new PIP claims to be decided. Of those 23,000, more than 3,000 people had been waiting longer than a year.