This week saw the emergence of a new landmark in the turbulent history of a benefit claimed by many who sustain a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) - the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). 

On 5th June, a High Court judge ruled that the delay experienced by two people applying for PIP was not only “unreasonable”, but was also “unlawful.”  The court heard how one applicant had experienced an eleven month delay, during which she had been able to afford only £8 per week for food.

Aspire has long highlighted the delays those who claim PIP sometimes face, and the hardship this can cause them.  In a previous blog post, we told the story of Steve, who waited for nearly half a year for his first payment and struggled with complicated forms and the failure of assessors to attend appointments with him.

Waiting times for PIP have been improving significantly since we told Steve’s story.  In the last period for which data has been published (March 2015), the average wait between application and a decision was 15 weeks, within the Government’s 16 week target.  The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, stated today that this figure has dropped to 7 weeks

However, whilst Aspire welcomes this progress, we also note that in March 2015 just under 30% of claimants had been waiting for over 20 weeks to receive their entitlement, and almost half of those for over 40 weeks.   There is, therefore, still room for improvement to be made.

We also echo the warning from the applicants’ lawyer, Anne-Marie Irwin, that steps must be taken to ensure further delays are not created by a planned extension to the rollout of PIP in October this year.   This extension will see a significant increase in the number of claimants in receipt of Disability Living Allowance being reassessed for PIP.   Current Government plans show that 101,000 reassessments will take place in the final quarter of 2015.  This is almost double the amount that will be reassessed in the previous quarter.   We therefore welcome the statement of Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, that the extended rollout will be carried out “in a way which ensures we learn from our past experiences”, and are keen to learn how this promise will be delivered.

What else could be next on the rocky road for PIP?  Aspire and the individuals we support will be waiting anxiously to see whether any changes to PIP will be included in July’s emergency budget.   Early indications were that David Cameron and his government would protect disability related-benefits from cuts.  However, when asked to confirm his commitment, the Prime Minister avoided the question.  Watch this space…