Since 2013 we have been raising issues about the claiming process for disability benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Allowance (PIP) and recommending radical changes in the system (see Recent Campaigns – Tackling problems with benefits provided by the Department of Work and Pensions).
However in 2019 we became aware that the time taken for claims for these two benefits and for the work capability element of Universal Credit (UC) was getting longer and longer, with some clients whose claims were initially rejected having to wait over a year before their claims were finally decided, often with a substantial award of backdated benefit by a tribunal on appeal.
What did we do to help?
We assembled evidence about three stages in the claiming process for these benefits that were responsible for the main delays. These were:
- delays between the claims being made and clients being called to interview to have their claims assessed
- where claims were rejected delays before requests for the decisions to be reconsidered were dealt with
- where appeals against DWP decisions were made to tribunals delays of 5 to 6 months before the appeals were heard and final decisions promulgated.
We then submitted this evidence to our two Richmond MPs as letters of complaint (letter to Sir Vince Cable, letter to Zac Goldsmith) to be forwarded both to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, and to the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, David Gauke.
The letters of complaint were forwarded by our MPs as requested and in due course both Secretaries of State responded with letters designed to demonstrate the action being taken to respond to our concerns (DWP response on delays in the claiming process for ESA,PIP and UC).
In particular, David Gauke reported that many more judges were being recruited to increase the number of tribunal hearings that could be heard. However, there has been little evidence of any reduction in the delays that we had identified in our complaint, and for hearings at the Hatton Cross and Sutton tribunals that hear appeals for disability benefits from claimants who live in the borough of Richmond, the delays against ESA, PIP and UC decisions lengthened later in the year to between 6 and 8 months except for appeals against PIP decisions that remained at between 5 and 6 months at Sutton Tribunal.
Consequently we will need to continue in 2020 to monitor the effectiveness of Government action to reduce delays for our clients in the claiming process for disability benefits.