The implementation of a new benefit for people with disabilities has been described as a “fiasco” by MPs.
The public accounts committee said some disabled people had waited up to six months for their personal independence payment (PIP) claim to be decided. PIP is the replacement benefit for disability living allowance for people of working-age and was introduced nationally from June 2013 for new claimants.
Some were forced to turn to food banks and charities for help to meet the extra cost of living with their disability, the MPs said.
In a report published on Friday, the committee said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had not piloted the new system but instead carried out a staged roll out. “The department’s failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong,” the paper said.
The committee said this resulted in delays and a backlog of claims, so that by October 2013 terminally-ill people waited an average of 28 days for a decision on their claim and non-terminally ill people waited 107 days.
The committee’s chair, the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, said: “The personal stories we heard were shocking. We heard evidence of a claimant requiring hospital intervention as a result of the stress caused by the delays suffered, and another claimant who was unable to afford the specific diet required for diabetes and gastric problems while waiting for a decision.”.
Claimants waiting for a decision and their families may not be able to claim linked benefits such as carer’s allowance, although the DWP said these benefits and PIP payments would be backdated to the start of a PIP payment if the benefit criteria were met.
The committee also criticised the department for not taking into account the performance of PIP assessment contractor Atos Healthcare on work capability assessments for the employment and support allowance, which culminated in the DWP announcing that the company’s contract would be terminated early.
Row over Atos contract bid
The committee also said that in its bid, Atos had said it would sub-contract with hospitals and physiotherapy practices and said organisations had “contractually agreed” to provide accommodation. The committee said the company admitted to it in evidence that it did not have binding contracts at the time of the bid. But it denied the committee’s allegations that it had misinformed DWP.
In a statement, Atos Healthcare said: “The department made clear that they were not misinformed during the tender process, that at the point of go live they knew our capacity, our partners and the number of centres we would be using. We completely refute any allegation of misinformation during the procurement process for personal independence payment. Not only have we written to the committee to clarify our position but we invited the National Audit Office in to scrutinise our documentation.
“That we could not have binding contracts in place before we signed a contract with the DWP is simply common sense and in no way misleading. What we did have were detailed written proposals from the suppliers.”
Minister of state for disabled people Mike Penning said: “The PAC report is based on old statistics. I have introduced a faster process for people with terminal illnesses, with clearance times reducing to our target of ten days. And a higher proportion of people are getting the highest rate of financial support for daily living under PIP than under DLA.
The government introduced personal independence payments in April 2013 to replace DLA for people of working-age; like its predecessor benefit, it is designed to helpspeople meet the extra cost of living resulting from their disability. The DWP started taking new claims for PIP in parts of northern England from April 2013 and nationally from June 2013, but had to delay the reassessment of DLA claimants for the new benefit, which began in October 2013, after delays and backlogs developed.