The government's implementation of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which replaced Disability Living Allowance, has been criticised by MPs as ‘nothing short of a fiasco.'
The Committee of Public Accounts today published its report into PIP and found widespread failings and that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had "rushed" the introduction of the benefit without piloting it.
The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts said: "The implementation of Personal Independence Payment has been nothing short of a fiasco. The Department of Work and Pensions has let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom have had to wait more than 6 months for their claims to be decided."
She added: "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. This resulted in significant delays, a backlog of claims and unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently."
Hodge said by October 2013, the Department had only made 16% of the decisions it had expected to have made by that time.
Terminally ill people were having to wait on average 28 days for a decision, 180% longer than expected.
Some claimants were forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations to support the extra costs of living associated with their disability, the report found.
Meanwhile, the standard of service by the DWP and its contractors was damned as ‘unacceptable' with reports of cancelled appointments and four in ten claimaints in Atos areas having to travel over an hour to be assessed.
This is despite promises that between 75% and 90% of claimants would travel less than 30 minutes to an assessment centre.
Hodge added: "The level of service provided has created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for claimants, and put additional financial and other pressures on disability organisations, and on other public services, that support claimants. The Department has yet to achieve the savings it intended to make and will have to seek compensatory savings elsewhere."
Last week it was also revealed that 700,000 people are waiting to be assessed for Employment Support Allowance, which is given to people with sickness and disability.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said: "The Government's disability reforms are not fit for purpose. At Citizens Advice we've dealt with more than 100,000 problems with Personal Independence Payment since it was introduced last year. The problems with PIP are the tip of the iceberg, as Employment Support Allowance for sick and disabled people is now the single biggest issue which our clients need help with.
"More than 5,000 people have signed our petition to make ESA fit for work and with Atos withdrawing from its Government contract, ministers now have the chance to carry out root and branch reform and get the system sorted."