gavelA delay of more than 9 months in delivering Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to two people with disabilities was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

The judge, Mrs Justice Patterson DBE, said that the length of delay was unreasonable. However, the judge added that the claimants’ human rights had not been breached, so they will not be entitled to compensation.

PIP is the replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was introduced in 2013. It is open to working-age adults and claimants receive from £21.80 to £139.75 a week, depending on the severity of their condition or disability. Currently, about 78,700 people are waiting to hear if they are eligible to claim PIP. Of those, 3,200 have waited for more than a year to have their claim processed. 

The claimants, known only as Ms C and Mr W, said that the wait meant that they had difficulty in paying everyday bills, such as food and fuel and this had an adverse impact on their health.

Mrs Justice Patterson noted the claimants’ “significant disabilities” and recognised that “they were each properly to be regarded as the most vulnerable in society.” She found that in acting as it did in the claimants’ individual cases, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “acted in a way that was unreasonable in the sense of being irrational”. The delays of 10 months and 13 months were “not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but unlawful.”

Ms C has severe depression, ME and high blood pressure and her condition led to her leaving work in January last year. She applied for PIP in September 2013 but did not receive the payment until 13 months later following the issuing of the judicial review.

“The delay had a massive impact on my life and during that whole time when I was waiting I felt completely isolated,” she said.

Following the decision the legal team at Irwin Mitchell, which acted for the claimants, is now calling on the DWP to reconsider its planned wider rollout of PIP to nearly 1.5 million DLA recipients in October and also establish an effective scheme to ensure the thousands of people already affected by the delays receive some form of redress for the problems they have faced, without needing to go to court.

Anne-Marie Irwin, the specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell leading the cases, said: “This is a significant legal judgement. A huge number of vulnerable people have been left in the lurch as a result of unacceptable flaws in the PIP system, with Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge in June last year calling the issues ‘nothing short of a fiasco’. In February 2014, the National Audit Office found that the defendant had not fully assessed performance before starting national rollout of the new claims in June 2013. 

“Today’s decision sends a clear message that the unacceptable delays faced by many people, may also be unlawful. 

“While the decision is undoubtedly welcome and emphasises the clear failings seen with this scheme, attention must now turn to rethinking the planned wider rollout in October until reassurances can be provided that the delays seen in the past are not repeated in the future. 

“In addition, while this case related to two specific clients, it is vital that the other thousands of people who have experienced delays are not forgotten. 

We are now hoping to begin discussions with the DWP to establish a scheme to ensure anyone who experienced a delay which could be deemed unlawful is able to receive some form of effective redress without the need to take court action.”

Government must take action

In response to the judgement, Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said: "The shambolic introduction of PIP has caused people with autism a great deal of distress. Many of our supporters rely on predictability to manage high levels of anxiety and really struggled with the insecurity of not knowing when, or even if, they were going to receive vital support they need to go about their lives.

"The Government had already recognised that the delays were unacceptable, but today's ruling goes further and makes clear that such lengthy delays are unlawful. The Government must now make sure that the system is fit for purpose before the wider roll out of PIP in October.”