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Government found to have acted unlawfully over disability payments

High Court rules that Government acted unlawfully in the unreasonably long time it has taken to provide benefits to people with disabilities

5 June 2015

A High Court judge has today ruled that the Government acted unreasonably toward disabled people by delaying payments of personal independence payment (PIP), the benefit introduced to replace disability living allowance (DLA).

The Court found that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith acted unreasonably and unlawfully by not awarding PIP to disabled people within a reasonable timescale.

Today’s judgment follows a full hearing at the High Court, which took place last month at which two unnamed test case claimants, known as C and W, asked the court to declare that the Government had taken an "unlawfully long time" to provide claimants with the new benefit.

Mrs Justice Patterson in today’s judgment, ruled that: “In my judgment, the delay in claimant C’s case from 9 September 2013 until the determination of her benefit on 24 October 2014 of some thirteen months and the delay in claimant W’s case from 3 February 2014 until December 2014 of some ten months was not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but was unlawful.” [Para 93]

Figures released at the end of March 2015 revealed that 3,200 people making new claims had been waiting for more than a year to receive the new payments.

Speaking at the hearing in May 2015, Lisa Giovannetti QC, representing the two claimants, said the delays had led to many people experiencing desperate financial struggles and being forced to borrow from friends or turn to loan sharks because they did not have enough to live on.

Ms. C and is from Kent. She has been diagnosed with ME and suffers from severe depression and other health problems. She applied for PIP in January 2014 after leaving her job through poor health. But she did not receive any payments until October 2014.

Speaking in May 2015, Ms C said: "The delay had a massive impact on my life. I applied for PIPs so I could look after myself, but without it I could barely eat and only ever left my house for a weekly trip to a supermarket.

"I was completely isolated during the nine months I was waiting for my payments. While my wait came to an end, it is worrying that many, many others have still not received a decision."

Law firm Irwin Mitchell represented the claimants and Leigh Day represented the Intervener The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K).

Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, who represented Z2K, a London-based charity campaigning against unfairness in the law, legal and benefits system, said:

“We are extremely pleased that this cruel delay has been ruled unlawful and the pressure is now on the Government to ensure that disabled people get the support they so urgently need. We hope this judgment will provide other disabled people who are currently experiencing equivalent delays with some hope and a basis upon which to obtain a determination of their claim.

“Even now, 2 years on from its inception in spring 2013, there remains a backlog of over 60,000 claimants, 23% of whom (as at April 2015) had been waiting over 20 weeks for their decision.

“4,700 had been waiting more than 40 weeks. There is no interim support in place. Claimants are experiencing serious financial hardship and they are unable to take advantage of vital provisions in place for PIP recipients, such as the exemption from the benefit cap and the automatic entitlement to a series of other benefits as their applications have not been processed.

“The Government continued to roll out these benefits despite knowing that there was a huge backlog,no transitional arrangements in place and no effective way to complain about the delays.

“Just under 2 million disabled people currently receiving DLA will be moved over to PIP later this year. However with the current back log we were urging the Government to think again and to not regard the current delays as an accepted norm.”

Joanna Kennedy from Z2K 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. Tens of thousands of PIP applicants have experienced similarly unreasonable delays.”

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