Hundreds of thousands of disabled and chronically ill people in the UK are missing out on cash payments worth up to £157 a week because bureaucratic delays have driven up processing times for disability benefit claims to an average of five months.
The Citizens Advice charity said the backlog in personal independence payment (Pip) claims processing was causing widespread stress and hardship. Roughly 150 people an hour were contacting its advisers for one-to-one help with the delays.
It urged the welfare secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to “get a grip” on the crisis and relieve the pressure in the system. About 327,000 people, many on low incomes, were waiting for a Pip application to be processed, with the delays holding up nearly £300m of benefit payments.
“Delays in getting money to people who’re entitled to it can wreck lives. With costs rising all the time, people need this regular support now, not a backdated payment months or years in the future,” said Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice.
The delays meant many new claimants eligible for the £150 disability benefit cost of living support payment announced by the government in May were unlikely to get it before energy prices increased again in October, Citizens Advice said.
Lynne Baker, a businesswoman and former NHS nurse, who has a degenerative condition that causes severe pain, problems with mobility, and fatigue, told the Guardian she had waited nine months for her Pip application to be processed last year, causing her fury, resignation and despair.
She could not afford to hire anyone to clean her house or help her with day-to-day tasks, forcing her to take on tasks her body could not handle. “Those nine months were mentally and physically exhausting and have had an adverse effect on my health,” she said.
Personal independence payment is a non-means tested benefit designed to support recipients with the extra daily living and mobility costs associated with disability. People with mental health as their main disabling condition make up nearly half of all working-age Pip claimants.
Citizens Advice believes the growing backlogs are caused by workforce shortages, the post-pandemic release of pent-up demand for Pip, and the emergence of Covid-related long-term health conditions.
Labour called the delays another example of “backlog Britain”. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow welfare secretary, said: “In the middle of a cost of living crisis, it is unacceptable that disabled people are being made to wait an average of five months to receive vital social security.”
The current Pip delays are the latest in a series of controversies to dog the benefit, which was introduced as one of a series of welfare reforms in 2013 by the coalition government to slash the number of claimants and save billions by cutting spending by 20%.
In 2015, a court admonished the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after average Pip processing times soared to 42 weeks a year earlier, pushing claimants into hardship. After hundreds more staff were hired, average Pip waits reduced to 12 weeks. Since 2018, however, processing times have steadily increased.
A separate analysis, published on Wednesday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, concluded that spending on disability benefits had soared, and at a faster rate than before the introduction of Pip, not least because of a long-term growth in disability benefits claims driven by an increase in mental heath conditions.
Heidi Karjalainen, an IFS research economist said: “Over the past three decades, the fraction of working-age people claiming disability benefits has increased from 2% to 6%. This reflects an increasing rate of mental health conditions across society as a whole. If this trend continues – or is even hastened by the pandemic – it will add further pressure to disability benefit spending.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We continue to improve our service to the millions of disabled people claiming benefits, with process times now down by six weeks on last year, and we are supporting those who can work to find fulfilling employment, with 1.3 million more disabled people moving into work over the past five years.”