Ministers have admitted 4,600 disabled people were wrongly stripped of their benefits for failing to attend appointments, despite having “good reason” for doing so.
A written statement from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – one of a raft of quiet announcements made before the Commons breaks up for Christmas – acknowledged many claimants sanctioned for failing to attend consultations while transferring from Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) should not have had their payments stopped.
The admission followed a tribunal decision made in November 2017 and the government promised those owed money would be notified and paid in the new year.
Minesh Patel, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, said the news was “deplorable” and that the payments were a “financial lifeline, not a luxury” for disabled people.
“They help disabled people to meet some of the extra costs they face as a result of an impairment or condition,” he added.
“Many disabled people we speak to are unable to attend their PIP assessment and it is desperately unfair that they are denied support on this basis.
“Whilst steps are being taken to rectify these errors, this alone won’t fix the lack of trust in the system.”
The charity said a complete overhaul of the application process was needed “to iron out the lack of transparency and routine inaccuracies”.
“This decision refers to DLA claimants transferring to PIP, who failed to attend or participate in their PIP consultations, and who had their DLA terminated as a result, but where, subsequently, DWP decision makers or tribunals have decided the claimant had a ‘good reason’ for not attending or participating,” the statement by Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, read.
“The decision states that in these instances claimants’ DLA awards should be reinstated, until a final decision on their PIP claim, and back paid, as necessary. We accept that the same approach applies where claimants who failed to provide information or evidence were later found to have ‘good reason’ for the failure to comply.
“The department has been working at pace and taking the necessary steps required to implement the ruling.”
It is understood not all of the claimants affected by the error have been identified as yet.
Shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, said: “These figures once again show the DWP’s shocking disregard for disabled claimants.
“There are still almost 1.5 million claimants left to review and they may be forced to wait years to receive what they are owed. That this government is so slow to put right its unlawful discrimination against disabled people is disgraceful.
“Labour will reverse the cuts to Personal Independence Payments and ensure that disabled people receive the support that they need.”
Ministers were accused earlier this month of “wasting” £1m trying to claw back benefits from sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The MS Society found that, in the past five years, independent tribunals ruled in favour of 83% of people with MS who disputed DWP decisions on their PIP claims.
A spokesperson for the DWP said the department was “committed to ensuring that disabled people get the full support that they need”.