Government ‘Must Urgently Rethink National PIP Rollout’ After Disability Assessment Delays Ruled Unlawful

Lawyers Leading Judicial Review Against Secretary Of State For Work and Pensions Demand Improvements After High Court Victory

05.06.2015

The Government must rethink plans for the wider rollout of its scheme to provide vital benefits to thousands of disabled families after the High Court ruled that severe delays seen in the application process were unlawful, according to the specialist public lawyers who led the legal challenge.

Legal experts at Irwin Mitchell, who had already helped seven people secure decisions on applications for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), launched a legal challenge to argue that the waits experienced by tens of thousands of applicants across the country were unreasonable.

PIP is a vital payment made to people with a long term health condition or disability to meet the additional costs arising from their conditions. The High Court heard that the delays had led to many disabled people experiencing desperate financial struggles and being forced to borrow from friends or turn to loan sharks and food banks because they did not have enough to live on.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) originally estimated the application process for PIP, which replaced Disability Living Allowance, would take just two and a half months.

However the DWP then admitted that out of more than 500,000 people who registered for PIP assessments between April 2013 and July 2014, only 206,000 had received a final determination. Recent figures also revealed that 12,600 claimants are still waiting for a decision over seven months after they applied and 3,200 claimants had been waiting for more than a year.

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Public Law team brought a judicial review on behalf of two clients affected by the delays and judges at the Royal Courts of Justice in London have today ruled that the delays were ‘unlawful’. 

Mrs Justice Patterson noted the Claimants’ “significant disabilities” and recognised that “they were each properly to be regarded as the most vulnerable in society.” She found that in acting as it did in the Claimants’ individual cases, the DWP “acted in a way that was unreasonable in the sense of being irrational”. The delays of 10 months and 13 months were “not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but unlawful”.

Following the decision the legal team at Irwin Mitchell is now calling on the DWP to seriously reconsider its planned wider rollout of PIP to nearly 1.5 million DLA recipients in October and also establish an effective scheme to ensure the thousands of people already affected by the delays receive some form of redress for the problems they have faced, without needing to go to court.

Anne-Marie Irwin, the specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell leading the cases, said: 

Expert Opinion
“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.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, Associate

One of the Claimants in the case is Ms C – who cannot be named – from Kent. She suffers from severe depression, ME and high blood pressure and her condition led to her leaving work in January last year.

She applied for PIPs in September 2013 but did not receive the payment until thirteen months later following the issuing of the judicial review.

Ms C said: “The delay had a massive impact on my life and during that whole time when I was waiting I felt completely isolated.

“While my thirteen-month wait came to an end, thousands of people have not had the same luck. It is vital that the Government makes sure that everyone affected in the past gets help and also that the system is fit for purpose before it is rolled out further.”

One of Irwin Mitchell's previous clients on this issue is Suki Mann, 48, from Hampshire, who suffers from chronic pain due to nerve damage following a serious injury.

Her health problems mean she is unable to work, which has placed a great strain on her finances and efforts to care for herself and her ten-year-old son. As a result of her disability, she had to pay for taxis to travel, including to numerous hospital appointments.

She has to follow a special diet because of side effects from medication and needs special clothing. She also incurs additional heating costs to keep her warm and free from infection.

She applied for PIP in December 2013 but suffered several problems in the application process which led to her facing a nine-month wait for confirmation of her PIP payment. While waiting for PIP to be paid, Suki resorted to using credit cards to meet essential needs and fell into significant debt.

Suki said: “Being unable to work has had a massive impact on our lives and the delays in PIP just intensified the worst aspects of it. Our debts mounted up and there were days when I genuinely worried if we would be able to afford to eat.

“My experience with the PIP process was a nightmare and while I finally got my application processed, I can only hope that the situation improves so no one faces what we’ve been through. It has been horrific.”

Steve Winyard, Head of Membership and Campaigns at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: "This is a great result and one that we have been fighting for.

"Since the introduction of PIP, we have heard from many blind and partially sighted people who have had to endure appalling delays before receiving this vital support.

"This legal action highlighted the severe delays, and in many cases severe hardships, that claimants face. This decision is an important step forward in ensuring disabled people are able to access this essential benefit in a reasonable amount of time to enable them to live as independently as possible."

Sue Bott CBE, Deputy Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, added: “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.”