Severe delays in the assessment process for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are unlawful, the High Court has ruled today (5 June).
PIP is a vital benefit which allows disabled people, and people with a long-term medical condition, to live independently and meet the extra costs arising from their disabilities. PIP is replacing Disability Living Allowance as part of the Government’s wide-spread welfare reforms.
Lawyers representing two disabled people argued that long delays in the PIP application process, experienced by tens of thousands of claimants, were ‘unreasonable’ and ultimately illegal.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) originally estimated that disabled people would have to wait no longer that two and a half months to be assessed for PIP.
However, the DWP later admitted that less that half of the 500,000 people who made a claim between April 2013 and July 2014 had received a final decision (206,000).
DWP figures also reveal that 12,600 claimants are still waiting for a decision over seven months after they applied. 3,200 have been waiting more than a year.
The High Court heard how delays have led to disabled and vulnerable people being forced to borrow from friends and turn to food banks, because they did not have enough money to live on.
The judge, Mrs Justice Patterson, agreed that the DWP had “acted in a way that was unreasonable in the sense of being irrational”.
Delivering her ruling, Mrs Justice Patterson said excessive delays in processing PIP applications were “not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but unlawful”.
Lawyers from Irwin Mitchell, who represented the two disabled claimants, are calling on the Government to seriously reconsider its planned rollout of PIP to nearly 1.5 million DLA recipients in October.
Irwin Mitchell Associate, Anne Marie Irwin, said: “This is a significant legal judgement. A huge number of vulnerable people have been left in the lurch as a result of unacceptable flaws in the PIP system, with Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge in June last year calling the issues ‘nothing short of a fiasco’.
“In February 2014, the National Audit Office found that the defendant had not fully assessed performance before starting national rollout of the new claims in June 2013.
“Today’s decision sends a clear message that the unacceptable delays faced by many people, may also be unlawful.
“While the decision is undoubtedly welcome and emphasises the clear failings seen with this scheme, attention must now turn to rethinking the planned wider rollout in October until reassurances can be provided that the delays seen in the past are not repeated in the future.
“In addition, while this case related to two specific clients, it is vital that the other thousands of people who have experienced delays are not forgotten.
“We are now hoping to begin discussions with the DWP to establish a scheme to ensure anyone who experienced a delay which could be deemed unlawful is able to receive some form of effective redress without the need to take court action.”
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People, said: “Today’s court ruling is a damning indictment on the government’s failure to get a grip of benefit delays.
“The chaotic benefit system has forced thousands of people to rely on food banks to survive because too many PIP and JSA payments aren’t being made on time. Ministers must act quickly to cut unacceptable benefit delays.”
Sue Bott CBE, Deputy Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We applaud the decision of the Court to uphold the judicial review.
“We believe this is a common sense decision that will allow the current problems with PIP where, by DWP’s own admission, tens of thousands of disabled people claiming PIP are having to wait over 5 months for a decision, to be sorted out before the rollout to existing DLA recipients begins.”
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Delays to PIP assessments are unacceptably common. Over two years since the introduction of Personal Independence Payments they are still not fit for purpose.
“People are turning to local Citizens Advice in their thousands as they are left high and dry without the financial support they need to live with their health condition or disability.
“PIP is a key part of our welfare system. It defies common decency that some disabled people are waiting months on end just to find out if they’re entitled to the necessary support.”