Disability benefits delays not illegal, government says

Man in wheelchair Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The government has defended its record over disability benefit claims

Delays in processing disability benefits claims were unacceptable but not illegal, the Department for Work and Pensions has told the High Court.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith did not "bury his head in the sand" when problems emerged and took "prompt" action, the court heard.

Two disabled claimants say processing delays were unlawful and have taken the test case to London's High Court.

The judge has reserved judgement and has retired to consider her verdict.

Mrs Justice Patterson gave no date for when a verdict might be returned.

'Reasonable time'

The court heard how two unnamed disabled people waited nine months for their Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

PIPs started replacing disability allowance in April 2013.

The pair had to turn to loan sharks and food banks because of the delays, the court was told.

They had a legal right to such benefits and should have received the payments within a "reasonable time", their lawyers told the court.

The two claimants have asked the court to declare that Mr Duncan Smith breached his common law and human rights duties.

David Barr QC - representing the DWP - told the court that Mr Duncan Smith had increased the number of staff working on PIPs by more than 800, after problems emerged.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Iain Duncan Smith did not "bury his head in the sand", the court heard

Two contractors, which were processing the claims, had also increased their staffing and introduced more evening and weekend working, he added.

The firms also introduced better IT systems and new booking arrangements for assessing disabled people making claims, Mr Barr said.

One of the claimants - Ms C, from Kent, who suffers from ME and severe depression - had told the court she had to leave her job because of ill health.

"I was completely isolated during the nine months I was waiting for my payments.

"While my wait came to an end, it is worrying that many, many others have still not received a decision."

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said that PIP claims were being processed "at five times the rate they were in January 2014".

But counsel for the claimants said the "most challenging phase" of the PIP rollout was still to come.

The latest figures show more than 22,000 disabled people have been waiting for at least four months for their claims to be assessed, including more than 3,000 who have waited for a year or more.

Labour, along with several charities, has criticised the government for the way it handled the switchover to PIPs.

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