Thousands of Vulnerable People Suffering Delays To Personal Independence Payment Applications

Lawyers Call For Improvements To “Unacceptable” Disability Payment Delays Forcing Vulnerable To Choose Between Food and Heating

27.01.2015

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Lawyers have called for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to put an end to the delays which have seen some vulnerable disabled people waiting up to 13 months for their applications for essential payments to help pay their food and heating bills.

Irwin Mitchell has so far represented seven separate applicants for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and after contacting the DWP or issuing court proceedings their payments have been processed within weeks despite previously waiting for months to be assessed.

The delays have meant having to effectively choose between buying food or turning the heating on with one applicant having lost one-and-a-half stone in weight as they had been left with just £8 per week to spend on food. During the winter months some applicants have also been unable to put their heating on because of the costs as they rely on PIP to help them afford to live.

The delays are due to be discussed at a Department for Work and Pensions Committee meeting tomorrow (28 January 2015). At the launch of a Public Accounts Committee report into PIP in June last year, the committee’s chair Margaret Hodge described the scheme’s implementation as “nothing short of a fiasco”.

Between April 2013 and July 2014 529,400 claimants had registered for PIP assessments, yet of these only 206,000 had received a final determination. This means that over 60% of applicants who applied since April 2013 were still awaiting a determination by the end of July 2014. Evidence obtained by lawyers suggests that there has been no substantial improvement in waiting times.   
 
The payments are used by vulnerable people to get the extra support they need because they are either disabled or suffering with a long-term illness and can help cover the costs of basic essentials such as food, heating and transport.

Now expert lawyers at the firm are calling for DWP to ensure they have the systems and resources in place so that they can hit their original estimates of two and half months. This would provide a permanent long term solution for the thousands of others who are stuck in the system waiting for their claims to be processed.

Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team argues that the Secretary of State’s practice of taking approximately six months or more to determine PIP claims is unreasonable, given that the purpose of PIPs is to support disabled people of working age who are struggling to make a living because of long-term ill health or a disability.

Anne-Marie Irwin, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who has been leading the PIP cases said:

Expert Opinion
We have been contacted by a number of people who are extremely concerned with the delays in dealing with PIP applications and we are worried that the DWP’s approach in fast-tracking our clients who are taking legal action is ignoring the thousands of others who are awaiting a decision on their payments and are being left unable to eat properly or put their heating on during the cold winter months.

“PIP was created to ensure that the thousands of vulnerable people across the UK are able to get support for extra costs caused by long-term ill health or disability. Through our work, we have seen how people have been left in the lurch for a number of months as a result of these issues, with many contacting the Department of Work and Pensions disability helpline several times to check the status of their claims – only to be told they must wait in line.

“We hope that the Select Committee makes clear recommendations to ensure that decisions are made by the DWP in a reasonable time. Too many people are experiencing unnecessary and unacceptable delays as they need this support to be able to meet the additional costs which arise as a result of their disability. This issue has left our clients struggling to cope financially, with the strain and stress of these issues also having a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, Associate

Six of the seven applicants represented by Irwin Mitchell had been waiting from between seven and 14 months when they turned to the law firm for help. The other had been waiting for four weeks but was concerned about the length of time she would have to wait based on other claims she was aware of. After Irwin Mitchell wrote to the DWP, they processed her claim within just four weeks – an unprecedented timescale.

In the latest case Irwin Mitchell applied for a Judicial Review to question the system and sort the delays out “once and for all” but because the DWP fast-tracked the applications of Irwin Mitchell’s clients and provided the necessary payments the Judge refused permission for the case to go to court. The Claimants are considering whether to ask for reconsideration of their case at a court hearing. 

Anne-Marie added that this was a common tactic taken by the department:

Expert Opinion
This latest case is indicative of the approach taken to these cases by DWP. Every time we have taken legal action to look at the systemic failures, the claimant’s application for PIP has been sorted in a matter of weeks to avoid a judicial review.

“This is welcome news for our clients, but how many people must take legal action before the root of the problem is tackled and the system is improved to ensure everyone’s case is reviewed in a suitable timeframe? The DWP’s decision to fast-track our clients is arbitrary and grossly unfair to the thousands of PIP applicants who have not taken legal action – and only serves to highlight the fundamental problems with the system.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, Associate

Irwin Mitchell previously represented Ms C, from Kent, who has suffered with severe depression for most of her life and was diagnosed with ME and high blood pressure in 2009. The condition causes severe physical exhaustion and a host of other health problems. She applied for PIPs in January 2014 after her condition worsened and she was forced to leave her job.

Ms C said: “The delay had a massive impact on my life. I applied for PIPs so I could look after myself, but without it I could barely eat and only ever left my house for a weekly trip to a supermarket.

I felt financially and socially isolated during the nine months I was waiting for my payments. My wait only ended after I sought legal action. I am so pleased that my wait is over, but I know that many, many others have still not received a decision.”

If you have made an application for PIP and you are concerned about the length of time you will have to wait for a decision, Irwin Mitchell may be able to help. Please contact 0370 1500 100 and explain that you have a new enquiry related to PIP, or contact publiclawnewenquiries@irwinmitchell.com