Disabled benefit change a ‘fiasco’

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
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THE rush to introduce a new disability benefits system has let down some of the most vulnerable people in society, a new report says.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of MPs, today branded the Government’s handling of the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) system a “fiasco”.

The Government insists the report is based on out of date figures.

PIP replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to help people with the costs of their condition and requires people to go through an assessment to judge how much money they should receive.

The MPs’ report published this morning says the Department for Work and Pensions “significantly misjudged” the number of assessments that would be needed and the time it would take to carry them out.

Mrs Hodge said the committee had heard “shocking” stories of terminally ill people waiting more than 28 days for decisions and claimants having to turn to food banks and charities for help in the absence of financial support.

“The implementation of Personal Independence Payment has been nothing short of a fiasco,” she said.

“The Department of Work and Pensions has let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom have had to wait more than 6 months for their claims to be decided.

“The Department’s failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong.

“This resulted in significant delays, a backlog of claims and unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently.”

The rollout of PIP was delayed last year when the backlog of claims became clear and today’s report calls on Ministers to put new policies in place before it is implemented nationally.

It also calls on the Department to be more rigorous in overseeing the companies carrying out the assessments.

Mike Penning, the Minister for Disabled People, said: “The old DLA system was extremely outdated, with the majority of claimants getting the benefit for life without systematic checks on their condition. Personal Independence Payment includes a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support goes to those who need it most.

“The PAC report is based on old statistics. I have introduced a faster process for people with terminal illnesses, with clearance times reducing to our target of ten days. And a higher proportion of people are getting the highest rate of financial support for daily living under PIP than DLA.”

But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said the report raised “serious questions” over the DWP’s competence.

The Leeds West MP said: “Thousands of disabled people are waiting months and months for essential help which means taxpayers are facing a huge bill to deal with the enormous backlog of Personal Independence Payment assessments. If they continue at the current rate, the backlog could take up to 42 years to clear.

“The Prime Minister must urgently get a grip of this chaotic department to avoid Personal Independence Payments going the same way as the crisis-hit Universal Credit programme.”