Disability benefits: Court to rule on delay test case
The High Court is expected to rule later on whether the government took too long to process benefit claims by two disabled people.
The unnamed pair waited nine months for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), and they say this left them dependent on loan sharks and food banks.
They claim the delay was unlawful.
During the test case, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) argued that it took prompt action when delays in processing claims were identified.
Labour and several charities have criticised the government for the way it handled the switchover to PIPs, which began replacing Disability Living Allowance in 2013.
According to the DWP, there are currently 78,700 outstanding claims made by people waiting to hear whether they are eligible for a PIP.
Of these, at least 3,200 people have waited more than a year to have their claims processed, and 22,800 have waited more than 20 weeks.
The claimants in the test case said delays meant they struggled to pay for food and fuel, and this caused their health to decline.
Their lawyers said they had a right to the benefits and should have received them within a "reasonable time".
One of the claimants, who suffers from ME and severe depression, said she was "completely isolated" during her wait for payments.
The DWP argued the delays were unacceptable but not unlawful, and said more than 800 extra staff were assigned to work on PIPs after problems emerged.
Contractors processing claims also increased their staffing and made other improvements, it added.
What are Personal Independence Payments?
PIPs are benefit payments to help people aged 16-64 with "some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability".
They are available to employed and unemployed people, and claimants can receive £21.80 to £139.75 a week, depending on how their condition affects them.
This is determined by an assessment, and claimants are regularly reassessed, but government figures show more than 3,000 have been waiting for more than a year for their claims to be processed.
From April 2013, PIPs began replacing Disability Living Allowance.
This process is ongoing and the government says everyone who needs to switch to PIPs should have been contacted by late 2017.