Today, a High Court judge ruled that Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions took an “unlawful and unacceptably long time” to pay new welfare benefits to two unnamed disabled people.
Personal independence payments (Pips) are replacing the disability living allowance (DLA) in a government overhaul of the benefits system. They are designed to help disabled adults meet the extra costs caused by disability.
The test case concerned two unnamed disabled people, who had to wait for payment of Pips.
Ms C’s case the delay was 13 months, from 9 September 2013 until the determination of her benefit on 24 October 2014. In Mr W’s case the delay was 10 months, from 3 February 2014 until December 2014.
Ms C, from Kent, has been diagnosed with ME and suffers from severe depression and other health problems. Speaking last month, she 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 was completely isolated during the nine months I was waiting for my payments. While my wait came to an end, it is worrying that many, many others have still not received a decision.”
There are currently 78,700 people waiting to hear if they can claim PIP, of whom 3,200 have waited more than a year to have their claims processed, and 22,800 have waited more than 20 weeks.
The judge said both cases had called for “expeditious consideration” as they both suffered significant disabilities. She said: “They were each to be regarded as the most vulnerable people in society.”
The judge added: “There is a high duty on local authorities to act promptly, consistently and appropriately to recognise social welfare benefits. There can be no public interest in delays such as was the case here.”
Elliot Dunster, speaking for the disability charity Scope, said: “This judgment demonstrates the importance of extra costs payments to disabled people. Life costs more if you are disabled. Scope research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month. Extra costs can make it extremely hard for disabled people to pay the bills. Every day without them is another day unable to afford the essentials in life. It’s positive that delays have been dramatically reduced.
“As speculation grows about where the chancellor will find his promised £12bn savings from the welfare budget, disabled people are looking to him to protect the financial support they receive.”
Richard Kramer of the national deafblind charity Sense said: “The legal ruling gives a human face to the significant levels of stress and suffering felt by disabled people as a result of system delays. The case is a reminder that there is some way to go before the system can be regarded as fit for purpose and customer-facing for all disabled people.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, the specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who acted for the disabled claimants, described the ruling as “a significant legal judgment”. She said: “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.”
Irwin added: “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.”