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Disability benefit delays unacceptable, say MPs

18 March 2014

Work and Pensions Committee says the length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for benefit is unacceptable.

The length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for benefit is unacceptable, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today. 

New claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as the benefit to help towards the extra costs of disability for people of working age, began in April 2013.  The majority of people applying for PIP undergo a face-to-face assessment to determine eligibility, which is carried out by private contractors.  But some claims are taking six months or more to process. 

The report calls for urgent action to improve the current unacceptable service provided to PIP claimants.  It recommends that:

  • Penalty clauses in the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) contracts with the assessment providers, Atos Healthcare and Capita Business Services, be invoked where necessary [paragraph 49]
  • DWP clear the existing backlog of PIP claims before reassessment of existing DLA claimants is extended [paragraph 49]
  • All necessary resources be devoted to meeting a 7 day target for processing PIP claims from terminally ill people [paragraph 51].

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“Many disabled or sick people face waits of 6 months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty.  It is completely unacceptable. 

“It is vital that all disabled people, but especially the terminally ill, experience as little delay and stress as possible in making a claim. Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often. Claimants, and their MPs, have often been unable to get any information about when a decision will finally be made.

“The Minister acknowledged that the service claimants were receiving from Atos and Capita – and in some cases from DWP itself – was not acceptable.  Whilst this recognition is welcome, urgent action is also required.  DWP should not only consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts, but must look at its own systems to ensure that the current dire situation is resolved. 

“By the end of last year decisions had been made in fewer than 20% of new claims submitted since April 2013. It is essential that the backlog is cleared before the limited natural reassessment of existing DLA claims is extended any further.”

The Report also assesses DWP performance in a number of other policy areas.  Its other conclusions and recommendations include:

Use of DWP statistics

DWP releases a great deal of statistical information about benefits. It needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media, to ensure it avoids the risk of feeding into negative public views about benefit recipients.  DWP should set out the specific steps it has taken to ensure that statistics are released in a way which is accurate, and fair to benefit claimants [paragraphs 139-142].

”Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.

“The UK Statistics Authority reprimanded DWP a number of times in 2013 for the way it was handling benefit statistics.

“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”

Local welfare assistance

The Government must ensure that sufficient funding is available to local authorities beyond April 2015 to cover the costs of the localised welfare support schemes which have replaced the previous system of centrally administered emergency hardship payments. This should be done either by DWP continuing to transfer funding to local authorities (as happened for 2013-14 and 2014-15) or by the local government settlement being increased by the full amount that would have been allocated for these elements of the discretionary Social Fund [paragraph 64].

“From April 2015 local authorities will be expected to finance emergency hardship payments from their overall grant settlement without any guarantee of additional money.  The Government must ensure that there is adequate provision for people who need it and that full account is taken in the funding arrangements of the additional responsibility that has been placed on local authorities.

“This is particularly important, given that it is the often most vulnerable who are reliant on hardship payments and many of these people are also being affected by a combination of current welfare reforms, including changes to housing and disability benefit, and the benefit cap.”

Pension reforms

The open market in annuities is not yet working in the best interests of most pension scheme members.  The Government and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) must take action to make the open market option a realistic one for all those who purchase annuities.  [paragraph 79].

“There has been clear evidence for some time that the annuities market is not working in the best interests of most pension scheme members.  Urgent action is needed to make the open market in annuities work for all, not just the minority currently able to negotiate it successfully.”

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