A flagship government welfare scheme is causing unnecessary distress to thousands of sick and disabled people because of long delays, MPs are warning.
The Commons public accounts committee says implementation of the new personal independence payment (Pip) has been “rushed”, with long delays for claimants who are disabled or have a long-term health condition.
Terminally ill people have been waiting an average of a month to be awarded the benefit, which was introduced in 2013 to replace disability living allowance (DLA).
Other claims were delayed more than six months, with some individuals taken to hospital due to the stress of the process.
The committee says one of the private companies involved on the scheme, Atos, appears to have provided the government with “incorrect and potentially misleading” information about its capabilities when it was tendering for the work. Atos denies this claim.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “The implementation of Pip has been nothing short of a fiasco.
“The DWP has let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom have had to wait more than six months for their claims to be decided.
“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.”
Ms Hodge said MPs what had been shocked by what they had heard, with some claimants forced to rely on food banks, loans and charities “to support the extra costs of living associated with their disability”.
There is concern that the average waiting time for terminally ill people to receive a decision was 28 days, far longer than originally expected.
In February, Channel 4 News revealed that disabled people had been waiting months for an assessment with providers Atos and capita. A nurse employed by Capita to carry out assessments told us she believed the delays were having an adverse effect on the people she has seen.
An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman 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.”
Mike Penning, minister for disabled people, said: “The old DLA system was extremely outdated, with the majority of claimants getting the benefit for life without systematic checks on their condition.
“New Pip includes a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support goes to those who need it most.
“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 10 days.”
Pip is designed to help towards some of the extra costs arising from a long-term medical condition or disability.