The government’s reforms to disability benefits are “causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety” to thousands of vulnerable and disabled people.
Around 1 in 4 disabled people are experiencing long delays, wrongful dismissal of claims, extreme confusion and other difficulties in claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
These are the damning findings of an investigation by the Independent newspaper, which exposes wide-ranging problems with the roll-out of the new disability benefit.
PIP began replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013, as part of the government’s widespread reforms to Britain’s welfare system.
The introduction and implementation of the new benefit for disabled people has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee as “nothing short of a fiasco”.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in June 2015, show that delays in processing new PIP claims have fallen to an average of 11 weeks.
However, some vulnerable and disabled people are still experiencing delays of over a year. Many of those people are pushed into debt and left reliant on the support of others.
Labour’s shadow disability minister, Kate Green MP, said the figures “make worrying reading” and criticised the government for “recklessly pressing ahead to roll out the new benefit”.
Kate Green said: “PIP can be a lifeline, helping disabled people and those living with serious illness such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease to meet the extra costs disabled people face.
“Yet the Government is recklessly pressing ahead to roll out the new benefit to all existing disability living allowance recipients rather than sorting out the problems that this research shows.
“It’s a recipe for chaos which will leave many disabled people facing hardship and distress.”
Citizens Advice claims they have received more than 100,000 queries from disabled people in relation to eligibility for PIP.
The advice charity also says they have been approached by tens of thousands of disabled people experiencing difficulties with PIP, including payment delays and requests for support in appealing against decisions.
The charity’s chief executive Gillian Guy said: “People’s ability to live independently is at risk due to PIP failures.
“People are experiencing problems with every part of the PIP application process, causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety for those going through a very difficult time.
“For too many people the system is not working. In order to fulfil its intention, the Government needs to ensure the PIP process is implemented properly and responds to people’s changing needs.”
Her concerns were echoed by the disability charity Scope. “We’ve heard from a large number of disabled people who used to receive DLA, but did not qualify when reassessed for PIP”, said chief executive Mark Atkinson.
Mr Atkinson said callers had complained that “their assessment report didn’t resemble what happened in their assessment”.
The DWP insists “the average new PIP claimant waits only five weeks for an assessment”, but conceded that too many claimants are still having to wait far too long.
PIP provides crucial financial support, ranging from between £21.55 to £138.05 a week, to allow disabled people to live as independently as reasonably possible. The amount a person can receive depends on the severity of their disability and how it affects daily living.
“Life costs more if you are disabled”, said Mr Atkinson. Research by Scope found that extra costs associated with being disabled “adds up to on average £550 per month”. This may include anything from “higher energy bills to specialist equipment”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “As a major new benefit still in the process of being introduced, it is only natural that PIP will generate questions from the public.”
They added: “We are continuing to take a gradual and controlled approach to the rollout”.