From Welfare Weekly, 24 October 2014.
Lawyers have launched legal action against the government over “unnecessary and unacceptable” disability benefit delays, it has been revealed today (24 October 2014).
Irwin Mitchell is representing a disabled woman from Kent, who is thought to be among thousands of people left “financially and socially isolated” by delays in assessing claims for the new disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The disabled woman is said to be struggling to feed herself and heat her home, after being forced to wait more than six months for her PIP claim to be processed.
The public law experts will argue in a judicial review that delays of more than six months in assessing claimants for PIP is leading to financial hardship for thousands of disabled people.
Anne-Marie Irwin, from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, said:
“PIP was created to ensure that the thousands of vulnerable people across the UK are able to get support for extra costs caused by long-term ill health or disability.
“Through our work, we have seen how people have been left in the lurch for a number of months as a result of these issues, with many contacting the Department of Work and Pensions disability helpline several times to check the status of their claims – only to be told they must wait in line.
“The delays that our client and potentially thousands of others have faced are simply unnecessary and unacceptable, as they need this support to be able to get the most from everyday life. This issue has left our client struggling to cope financially, with the strain and stress of these issues also having a significant impact on her health and wellbeing.
“We’ve been left with little choice to take this action to ensure that the voice of our client is heard.”
Of the 349,000 claims for PIP made between April 2013 and March 2014, final decisions have only been made on 84,000 by the end of February 2014, say Irwin Mitchell. Lawyers claim that this has potentially left several thousands struggling to get by day-by-day.
The National Audit Office reported in December last year that just 19% of new claims for PIP had been given a decision. The actual time for making a decision was 107 days for claims from people without a terminal illness and 28 days for claims by the terminally ill.
Anne-Marie Irwin said: The delays are putting people at a significant disadvantage and if their PIP claims are granted it would meet the additional financial costs which arise because of an illness or disability and so enable them to benefit from a greater quality of life.
“It is clear that urgent action is needed on this issue.”
At the launch of a Public Accounts Committee report into PIP in June this year, the committee’s chair Margaret Hodge described the scheme’s implementation as “nothing short of a fiasco”.
Irwin Mitchell is representing Ms C, from Kent, who suffers with severe depression, ME and high blood pressure. Ms C experiences severe physical exhaustion and many other health problems. She applied for PIP in January 2014 after she was forced to give up her job when her condition worsened.
Ms C said: “The delay has had a massive impact on my life. I applied for PIPs so I could look after myself, but without it I can barely eat and only ever leave my house for a weekly trip to a supermarket.
“While PIP wouldn’t solve all of my problems, without it I just feel financially and socially isolated.”
Disability Minister Mark Harper said in September this year (2014): “We accept that the delays faced by some people are unacceptable, and we are committed to putting that right.
“Between May and July we have doubled the number of claims processed and we are working hard to continue to make further improvements.
“By the end of the year we expect that no-one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 16 weeks.”