The Department for Work and Pensions introduced Personal Independence Payment as planned in a small number of areas from April 2013. Since then backlogs have developed in the assessment process, leading to delays and uncertainty for claimants, according to today’s National Audit Office report.
Personal Independence Payment is a non-means-tested benefit to support disabled people with their daily living and mobility costs. It replaces Disability Living Allowance for working age people and aims to match support more closely to claimants’ needs. By 25 October 2013, 166,000 people had started new claims for Personal Independence Payment.
According to the spending watchdog, the Department used a phased roll-out to reduce the risks in the programme, but left little time to test whether it could handle a large volume of claims. When the assessment process took longer than expected backlogs soon developed; by 25 October 2013, the Department had made only 16 per cent of the number of decisions it had expected.
Claimants are experiencing long delays to benefit decisions, and the Department is not able to tell them how long they are likely to wait, potentially creating distress and financial difficulties. By October 2013, there were 92,000 people whose claims were outstanding with assessment providers – Atos Healthcare and Capita Health and Wellbeing – almost three times the number expected by the Department at this stage.
In response to its concerns about the readiness of providers to deal with a further expansion of claims from October 2013, the Department postponed the reassessment of many existing Disability Living Allowance claims. In a late decision, the Department announced on 21 October 2013 that ‘natural’ reassessments would not be rolled out nationally from 28 October as planned, but would be phased in by postcode area based on the Department’s assessment of the capacity of both assessment providers.
Today’s report highlights that the Department introduced Personal Independence Payment despite its compressed timescale and has learnt from past experience in the way it manages contracted assessment providers. However, to achieve value for money, the Department will need to show that it can reduce delays for claimants and deliver planned savings while maintaining the quality of its decisions.
Today’s report finds that, in the current Spending Review period to April 2015, the DWP will not achieve the savings it originally expected. Because of the revised timetable for reassessments, savings during this period will fall from £780 million to £640 million. The Department, however, still expects to achieve long term savings of £3 billion annually by 2018-19.
Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the DWP should set out a clear plan for informing claimants about the likely delays they will experience while it works with providers to improve performance.