Delays in the system left a disabled man from Torquay waiting for seven months for a benefits assessment.
Part-time office worker from Ellacombe Mark Makepeace, 53, feel out of a tree nearly a year ago while doing gardening work, compressing his neck and damaging his spinal cord.
He was paralyzed at the time, and despite being discharged in December 2013 his hands are still paralyzed now. He currently works part-time in an office because he can “just about use a computer.”
In January he applied for a Personal Independence Payment., which had started to replace Disability Living Allowance from April 2013 onwards.
Mark was put on a waiting list for a home visit, where he would be assessed for PIP and officials would check whether he was receiving the correct payments for Employment and Support Allowance.
Yet by July he still didn’t have an assessment date arranged with ATOs, he company which currently assesses benefit claimants.
Mark said: “I phoned the Department of Work and Pensions on quite a regular basis to make sure they had got my claim.
“They are very nice people but they don’t give you any answer or clue as to when you will get the assessment done.
“I appreciate the whole system, the way everyone works and the fact I can get costs for my living. The frustration is the length of time it takes to get it.”
Mark said he just wants the money so he can get by before he’s well enough to fully return to work.
He contacted Torbay MP Adrian Sanders, who on July 7 wrote a letter to ATOs to say that Mark’s “finances are running out” and suggested that he might be able to go to an assessment centre rather than wait for a home visit.
On July 24 Mr Sanders received a response to say that a home visit assessment was booked for August 13.
Mr Sanders said the waiting time for assessments for both ESA and PIP “can leave clients with less or no income for weeks on end.”
He said: “If the assessment centre was based in Newton Abbot or Torquay it would be closer to where the largest number of current and potential claimants reside. This would lead to fewer rearrangements, save time on home visits, and reduce unnecessary hassle and expense for clients.”
In a letter responding to Mr Sanders a spokesperson for ATOs apologised to Mark, saying his case was being managed by ATOs Healthcare in Bristol and was awaiting review by a healthcare professional to “determine whether a face to face assessment will be required.
The spokesperson said in the letter: “DWP analysis is now showing that the PIP end to end claim process is currently taking longer than anticipated.
“However, I can assure you we are working alongside the DWP to reduce any delays by increasing our capacity. The DWP have confirmed that this will not affect the date from which customers are paid, if found to be entitled.
“We are currently handling a high volume of referrals from the DWP, and we are required to deal with each of these referrals in the order in which they are received, whilst working hard to maintain a consistently high quality of assessment for each customer.”
A spokesperson for ATOs later said that Mr Sander’s intervention did not influence the date of Mark’s assessment, saying “only the DWP can ask that we prioritise cases.”
She added: “If found eligible for PIP the DWP will make a back payment to the date of the initial claim. Those awaiting an assessment for ESA receive ESA whilst they wait.”
To qualify for PIP, a person must be between 16 and 64 and have a long-term health condition or disability as well as difficulties with activities related to daily living and/or mobility.
Unless you’re terminally ill, you must have had these difficulties for 3 months and expect them to last for at least 9 months.
With two separate components for daily living and mobility issues, overall payments for PIP can range from £21.55 to £138.05, including between £54.45 to £81.30 for daily living and £21.55 to £56.75 for mobility issues.