THE government took an “unlawful and unacceptably long time” to pay new welfare benefits to two unnamed disabled people, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.
The judge was told at a recent hearing that vulnerable people have been forced to turn to loan sharks and food banks because of the delays in providing them with personal independence payments (Pips).
The payments are replacing the disability living allowance (DLA) in sweeping government reforms of the benefits system. They are designed to help disabled adults meet the extra costs caused by disability.
Two claimants, Ms C and Mr W, asked Mrs Justice Patterson to declare that because of the magnitude of the delay, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith breached his common law and human rights duties to make payments within a reasonable time.
The judge ruled the delay in both cases was “not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but was unlawful”.
Joanna Kennedy from Z2K, a London-based charity campaigning against unfairness in the benefits system, which intervened in the case, said: “We are delighted that Mrs Justice Patterson has deemed the delay in processing Pip claims both unreasonable and unlawful, at the same time as recognising the crippling hardship caused by such delays. It is, however, disappointing that she decided against treating the claimants as test cases.”
In her ruling, the judge said it would be “inappropriate” to grant a declaration in wider terms covering other cases of late payments “because of the considerable variations in individual circumstances”.
The judge added: “I do not think it is the role of the court to give guidance in a situation which has been evolving and with which the defendant now appears to be grappling in a way which is entirely appropriate.”
Elliot Dunster, speaking for the disability charity Scope, said: “This judgment demonstrates the importance of extra costs payments to disabled people.
“Life costs more if you are disabled. Scope research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month.
“Extra costs can make it extremely hard for disabled people to pay the bills. Every day without them is another day unable to afford the essentials in life.
“It’s positive that delays have been dramatically reduced.
“As speculation grows about where the Chancellor will find his promised £12 billion savings from the welfare budget, disabled people are looking to him to protect the financial support they receive.”
Richard Kramer, from the national deafblind charity Sense, said: “The legal ruling gives a human face to the significant levels of stress and suffering felt by disabled people as a result of system delays.
“The case is a reminder that there is some way to go before the system can be regarded as fit for purpose for all disabled people.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, a specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who acted for the disabled claimants, described the ruling as “a significant legal judgment”. “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.”