DWP 'too slow to fix mistakes' as it pays out £74m in disability-benefit arrears

Department has reviewed just under a quarter of cases affected by a court judgment since 2021
Photo: Rosemary Roberts/Alamy Stock Photo

The Department for Work and Pensions has been accused of being too slow to fix its mistakes as it pays out £74m in arrears to some 14,000 people claiming disability benefits, after a review amended the criteria for the payments.

DWP began an “administrative exercise” in 2021 to review Personal Independence Payments cases dating back to 2016, after a court ruling that meant some claimants were entitled to more support.

The department has so far identified 326,000 cases in need of review. As of 31 August, it had reviewed around 79,000 – just under a quarter – of which 14,000 have been awarded arrears.

The review is not expected to be completed, and the pace of the process has been criticised. The mental-health charity Mind said the department had been “far too slow to act in rectifying their mistakes” after failing “thousands of people”.

PIP is a benefit for people with long-term physical and mental health problems and disabilities. To qualify, claimants are scored against several criteria, including whether they are able to independently cook a meal, manage medication or engage with other people face-to-face.

Based on how many points their application scores, they are awarded either a lower or higher rate of support related to daily living and mobility.

In July 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that DWP must widen the criteria it used to determine the kind of “social support” some people needed to engage with others.

It must therefore award more points to applicants who needed “prompting” to engage with others. Previously, some applicants fell short of the overall points threshold they must meet to receive either the higher or lower-rate benefit.

In a statement, minister for disabled people Tom Pursglove said the department is “committed to making backdated payments to all claimants affected by this judgment as quickly as possible”.

But Mind’s policy and campaigns manager, Nil Guzelgun, said: “The fact that since 2021 less than a third of the people affected have had their payments reviewed, and less than 5% have been paid the updated PIP entitlement, is a shocking indictment of a system that continues to let disabled people down.

“Some people will have been underpaid – and continue to be underpaid – for more than seven years now.”

She said the government had “failed thousands of people with mental health problems with a draconian assessment scheme that denied them the support they deserved”.

The disability-equality charity Scope meanwhile urged the government to “speed up the process and fix this urgently”.

Its executive director of strategy, James Taylor, said: “PIP exists because life costs more when you’re disabled… Disabled people shouldn’t have to fight for disability benefits. We need a welfare system that gets it right first time.”

Pursglove said in his statement that given its complexity, the review exercise had started “at a relatively small scale, prioritising terminally ill and recently deceased claimants, testing our processes and communications with claimants, to ensure that they are effective before ramping up”.

He said the department has trained extra staff to work on reviewing cases, and expects to complete the exercise by the end of 2025.

As well as affecting the type of “social support” recognised by the PIP assessment, the court judgment also meant DWP must take into account support offered in advance, not just during interactions with other people.

The department will therefore be “inviting” around 284,000 claimants whose claims might be affected by this change to be in contact about their claims.

"I believe that prioritising cases where claimants are more likely to be entitled to more support is the correct approach," Pursglove said.

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