HUNDREDS of thousands of people who claim sickness and disability benefit are facing delays as government staff are deployed to handle a surge in Universal Credit claims.
People who are unwell and vulnerable who have put claims for support in or are trying to appeal cuts are struggling financially and have not heard from the DWP in months in some cases, a report by The Independent found.
DWP figures show as of April 27 there were 166,630 personal independence payment (PIP) claimants awaiting assessment or scheduling, while as of May 4 109,910 people were waiting on claims for employment support allowance (ESA).
Charities and campaigners have expressed concern that people trying to appeal decisions over their payments being payment are facing long delays.
There are thousands of PIP and ESA appeals every month after people are told they cannot claim it following work-capability assessments. About three in four of those appeals are successful at tribunal.
READ MORE: Coronavirus lockdown sees ‘huge’ rise in Universal Credit claims
The process already takes about 10 weeks – but many fear that period could be extended due to the pandemic.
Policy and campaigns officer at charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust Ella Abraham said: “The reduced staff at the DWP working on PIP assessments is leaving too many disabled people waiting for an assessment – these are people who are in urgent need of PIP at the best of times and particularly now during this crisis.
“We know it’s possible for the DWP to make decisions on people’s eligibility for PIP based solely on the questionnaire and medical evidence submitted, as this is already in the process for some claimants.
“Now it is more crucial than ever that they do this, and we urge the DWP to urgently increase the use of these paper-based decisions to ensure disabled people are receiving the income they are entitled to.”
Meanwhile the parliamentary co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, Mathew Harrison, said: “The shifting of staff away from disability benefits, such as PIP, is without doubt having a knock-on effect in delaying people’s applications.
“We are also hearing of cases where people are waiting on appeals and are being left with little money during this period, and cases where successful appeal outcomes, correcting wrong decisions, are not being implemented promptly.
“This cannot be right and the government must tackle this backlog immediately to ensure that disabled people, who are being disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, have the financial support they need to get through this period.”
As of March 16 disability benefit claimants do not need to attend in-person assessments as part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but Harrison added delays have to be “weeded out of the system” in the meantime.
READ MORE: Two million welfare claims made to UK Government during Covid-19 crisis
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure people get the support they are entitled to and have redeployed a significant number of staff to process the record numbers of claims across the benefits system.
“We have suspended all face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits. We automatically extended awards for existing claimants that were due to be reassessed and will only undertake reviews or reassessments in specific circumstances.
“Any claim made under the special rules for terminal illness continues to be fast-tracked, taking an average of six days to process these claims.”