Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People, has responded to a High Court ruling that severe delays in assessing disabled people for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were ‘unlawful’, but did not breach the claimants Human Rights.
Responding to the ruling, Mr Tomlinson said: “The High Court ruled on this case on Friday 5 June 2015.
“The suggestion by lawyers representing the 2 disabled people was that their human rights had been breached. This was dismissed by the judge, and their claims for damages were unsuccessful.
“Their case failed to recognise the massive improvements delivered and the performance of the system today, both of which were highlighted by the judge.
“Despite this, whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, it was a stark reminder of past failure.
“It is true that some people have faced unacceptable delays waiting for PIP assessments. It is something the government has acknowledged many times, and something the judge confirmed in her ruling. And getting support to those in need as quickly as possible is really important.
“The government was keen to launch PIP because it offers so much more than Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which it replaces. It targets support to those who need it most and considers needs arising from all impairments equally and consistently.
“But the assessments took longer than expected as we rightly wanted to be as thorough as possible and give claimants time to discuss how their condition affected their everyday life. In that context, the infrastructure could not cope.
“All PIP awards are backdated to the time of the claim, so ultimately no-one has suffered financial loss as a result of a delay. Nevertheless, the fact that this happened is a matter of great regret, and something for which we have apologised.
“The most important thing when mistakes are made is to learn from them and put things right quickly. All I ask is for those who criticise the errors to also recognise the swift action we have taken to address them.
“This was not mere tinkering. We doubled the number of staff working on PIP and we drove the assessment providers to make radical improvement to their service.
“Today, the assessment providers employ almost 4 times more health professionals than they did in early 2014. Meanwhile, new assessment centres have been opened to reduce claim processing times and reduce the distance many claimants need to travel.
“The average new PIP claimant now waits only 7 weeks for an assessment and the number of claims in the system at any one time is sustainable. We are in a good position to build on the improvements made and work closely with providers to deliver a better, joined-up service. It is absolutely essential, having seen these delays in 2013 and early 2014, that we learn from the past.
“We simply cannot afford to put this progress in jeopardy. I remain absolutely committed to the further rollout of Personal Independence Payment – but in a way which ensures we learn from our past experiences.
“I am clear that the next and final stage of PIP roll-out which will reassess those on lifetime DLA awards must be carried out in a safe and controlled manner.
“At the same time, we will continue to push for improvements in the level of service experienced by claimants. In particular, we are committed to ensuring that our communications are as clear and accessible as possible.
“Having recognised there was a problem, made a public commitment to solve it, and then delivered on that, now is the time to build on the progress.
“We should not let the difficulties of the past prevent us from delivering a better future.”