Citizens Advice Scotland has published a new report from its Voices from the Frontline series detailing the impact on vulnerable people of the move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments – a system which is beset by errors and long delays.
Personal Independence Payments are a crucial benefit that is supposed to help people with the extra costs associated with being sick and/or disabled.
Delays up to 15 months have been reported by bureaux service users, leaving many without the vital support they need to live when they become sick or disabled, leading to severe hardship for those on low incomes.
Delays in decision-making, getting a face-to-face assessment, or even sending out PIP forms have been reported by service users.
Bureaux advisers tell of people getting in to debt because of the delays. Some of those who can no longer work are experiencing delays on two fronts, as they await a decision on Employment Support Allowance, leaving them with no income and reliant on food banks.
Delays in the decision-making process are also causing real difficulties for those affected by life-threatening conditions such as cancer, who have to undergo hospital treatment, but cannot afford to travel to appointments. Some are reported to have lost their car.
The delays mean that those affected cannot access passported benefits, such as Carers Allowance or travel cards. These cannot be backdated.
While the report is critical of the delays in the process, it does state that many advisers were impressed by the improved quality of decision-making.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Identify and take urgent measures to address the significant delays in the claim process.
- The timescale for returning the PIP “how your disability affects you” form should be re-examined, particularly where clients need support to complete the form. DWP should establish a maximum timescale for issuing these forms following the claimant’s initial call.
- Claimants should be provided with more information about the claim process, including an overview of the process, and information about what information they will need to provide at each stage of the process.
- There should be more information available to claimants about the progress of their claim. DWP should acknowledge receipt of forms so that claimants and bureaux know that they have not been lost.
- Medical evidence should be collected at an early stage and used to inform the assessment process.
- A more appropriate balance should be found between use of medical evidence and the findings of the medical assessment.
- Further roll out of PIP reassessment should be delayed until current problems in the system are rectified and in particular the backlog of assessments is dealt with.
- DWP should commission an urgent independent review of the impact of benefits delays on sick and disabled claimants and take appropriate action on the conclusion of the review.