At least 150,000 disabled people have been waiting longer than four months for the government to decide on their claims for the coalition’s new disability benefit, new official figures suggest.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that about 490,000 people registered a new claim for personal independence payment (PIP) between its launch in April 2013 and 31 July 2014.
But of those claims, only 200,000 have so far been cleared. The figures suggest that at least 150,000 people had been waiting at least four months for their PIP claim to be dealt with by the end of July.
A DWP spokesman dismissed these calculations, though, and said it was “not statistically correct to simply subtract the number of clearances from the number of registrations”.
And he said that some of the older claims in the system may appear to be part of a backlog, but “are actually claims that are awaiting the claimant’s action”, and could later be withdrawn by the claimant, or “disallowed” if the claimant failed to return forms or evidence or attend their assessment.
But he declined to say how many claimants have been waiting longer than four months.
The DWP figures also show that about half (51 per cent) of the new claims that have been dealt with so far have been awarded PIP. If excluding claims withdrawn by the applicant, the success rate rises to 55 per cent.
This compares with success rates for new DLA claimants of about 45 per cent from 2008-09 to 2011-12.
But campaigners have warned against reading too much into these figures without further examination.
One reason, they say, is that the lengthy backlog in new PIP claims could mean that only those that are easier to decide on – from claimants with higher support needs – might have been prioritised for assessment. This could mean that success rates fall over time.
The new figures also show that – thanks to delays in implementing PIP – only 6,000 reassessments of previous claimants of DLA had been completed by the end of July.
Of these, only 72 per cent have been awarded PIP. Excluding those claims that were withdrawn by the claimant, this rises to 79 per cent.
This suggests that the government is on track to cut the number of working-age DLA claimants by at least 20 per cent.
Laura Stringhetti, of the WOWcampaign, said: “WOWcampaign does not believe that 28 per cent of those in receipt of DLA have miraculously got better and would like to see further analysis of this outflow from DLA to see where these people have actually gone.
“In recognition of previous examples of incompetent performance by Atos [one of the two companies carrying out the assessments] and the DWP we believe it likely that disabled people who should be in receipt of help from the government are yet again chucked out of the ‘safety net’ by this uncaring ConDem alliance.”
But she said the figures prove that DLA “was not that easy to claim, as we were led to believe by the politicians spinning the ‘actuality’ to justify draconian cuts to the support afforded to sick and disabled people”.
She added: “These figures cannot hide the scandal of the very long waiting times people are experiencing for PIP assessments, which are sometimes in excess of six months.
“Disturbingly, this government is planning to move all DLA claimants, including people with indefinite awards, to PIP starting from next year.
“We are very concerned that the system will be unable to cope and will cause more distress to many disabled people and their families.”
Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus report, said: “While the success rate for new claimants appears slightly higher than expected, it seems clear that the fears of current DLA claimants of a 20 per cent cull were not unfounded. Roughly a quarter are losing the support they previously relied on.
“Despite their disability and needs being unchanged, these disabled people will now have to cope without the support of DLA or PIP. It can be assumed that newly disabled people with similar needs will also now go without support.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of Disabled People Against Cuts, said in a statement backed by Pat’s Petition – another user-led, grassroots, anti-cuts network – that Disability News Service (DNS) should not report any speculation on the figures.
She said that the way PIP cases were “queued and processed is being made up as they go along”, which will skew the results, as will “lots of other factors we may not have information about”.
She said that speculation comparing PIP and DLA figures at this stage “on a subject as politically sensitive and with such a direct and potentially damaging impact on the lives of disabled people is both reckless and irresponsible”.
She said: “Under the past few years of so-called welfare reform, disabled people have been at the mercy of the deliberate abuse and misuse of statistics by government to justify the most vicious attacks.
“We would urge anyone to wait and study the figures robustly before attempting to draw any conclusions.”
Another disabled campaigner said her main concern was with the “inappropriateness of points-based systems in general, and the lack of consideration of where disability-related costs actually arrive”.
She added: “So for example, although the reason I can’t live independently is because I haven’t got the health to run a household, actually there is nothing in PIP (apart from preparing a main meal) that asks whether I can shop and clean and maintain a home.
“It would be great if PIP, and even employment and support allowance, reached more people, but it wouldn’t change the fact that people like me aren’t getting the support they need to live and work independently, and the criteria and benefit levels simply aren’t set to allow that.”
The DWP spokesman said: “Unlike the old system, PIP includes a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support goes to those who need it most.
“Today’s figures show just that, with nearly 23 per cent of people getting the highest level of support, compared to 16 per cent under DLA.”
Meanwhile, the government has tried to defend PIP rules that mean that anyone who transfers to PIP from DLA, and eventually secures a higher award, does not have the subsequent increase in their benefits backdated to the point when they notified DWP of a change in their circumstances.
DNS reported last week that many disabled people forced to transfer across to PIP from DLA were missing out on thousands of pounds of backdated payments because of the lengthy delays and backlogs in the PIP assessment process.
A DWP spokesman finally responded to the concerns this week.
He said: “PIP includes a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support is better targeted at those who need it most.
“Protections are in place to make sure that DLA claimants who will see a lower level of support as a result of being assessed for PIP are not penalised while a decision is being made on their claim.
“These arrangements represent the fairest outcomes for the majority of claimants going through the process of being reassessed for PIP.”
18 September 2014