UK

Benefit delays 'hit hundreds of terminally ill patients'

Hand holding pound coins
Image caption The charity says changes have left cancer patients with no income

Hundreds of terminally ill cancer patients face waiting weeks and months for their income support because of a new payments system, a leading charity has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support described the situation as "appalling".

Government attempts to simplify the system mean payments that previously took eight to 10 days are now taking eight to 10 weeks, the charity said.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) questioned Macmillan's figures.

'Survive on nothing'

A new system for disability benefit claimants was introduced in April. For the majority of claimants, Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) are replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) - claimed by 3.2m people - in what ministers say is a simplification of the system.

But Macmillan say early indications from their advisers working in hospitals and citizens advice bureaux are that the changes have left hundreds without support.

Keith Boyd, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May, told the BBC the delay made him feel "like a second-class citizen".

Mr Boyd said he waited three months without income after applying for support - despite his doctor saying he should be a priority.

"People were telling me I was entitled to this benefit but nobody was paying it... If you had children and you were trying to survive on nothing, I don't know how you would do it."

'No commitment'

But a spokeswoman for the DWP said under the new PIPs, terminally ill cancer patients were "fast-tracked" and that under the previous system claimants had to fill in a 40-page form.

She said there were no "robust statistics" to back-up Macmillan's claim that the change had caused delays for hundreds.

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Media captionKeith Boyd: "They were waiting for you to die before they did anything"

"Macmillan aren't comparing like with like as DLA and PIP are completely different benefits with different claim processes.

"[The charity has] acknowledged that improvements in the system have been made since the new benefit was introduced in April and we continue to work with them to further streamline the process."

Macmillan's director of policy and research Mike Hobday told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The principle of a fast-track process for terminally ill patients... is still there but the fact that the processing time has gone from eight-to-10 days to eight-to-10 weeks really is appalling."

He said the charity was talking to DWP officials about the delays but added there was "no sign of a commitment to what the timescale should be".

Claims from other terminally ill patients without cancer who qualify for the enhanced PIP rate are also "fast-tracked" and do not require a face-to-face consultation, the DWP says.

Over the next few years the government is replacing DLA for 16-64 year olds with the new PIP system.

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