£300m benefits paid without interviews

Updated: 

Iain Duncan SmithPA

This is supposed to be the government that's tough on disability benefit claimants. They were meant to be putting a stop to the outrage of people claiming disability benefits for minor ailments like indigestion or raking in a fortune in payments while continuing their salsa dancing classes on the side.

However, figures from the Department of Work and Pensions reveal just how slow progress has been in this area. Only a tiny minority of claimants are having interviews to check the impact of their disability, and a significant minority are being paid purely on the basis of claims they have made in the application form. So what's going on?

Shocking level of claimants

The number of claimants for this particular benefit is still at an astonishing level. The number claiming the allowance has shot up from 1.1 million in 1992 to 3.2 million today - at a cost of £13.3 billion a year. And there are around 210,000 brand new claims for the benefit every twelve months.

Either we are a nation of the walking wounded, barely capable of getting out of bed let alone fighting for our place on the economic world stage - or something is seriously wrong with the system.

Lack of checks

The checks announced in the early days of the coalition were meant to put a lid on this, by forcing claimants through a rigorous interview process. However, the data reveals that 94% of those getting Disability Living Allowance for the first time last year didn't have to have any form of assessment face-to-face.

Some 42% of claims were approved on the basis of a GP's report - which cost taxpayers £150 million a year. Meanwhile 36% of successful claims were handed out on the basis of some other supporting documentation - including phone calls with benefits staff, information from social workers and reports from therapists.

Shockingly 16% of them were able just to complete the application form and weren't even asked for any supporting documentation. The total paid out to these individuals reached an incredible £30 million over this period.

Need for change

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said this just goes to show how much the changes are needed. He said: "At the moment, hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form."

For the rest of us, we're starting to get a sense of deja vu. We were promised that checks would get more rigorous, and yet very little seems to have happened. The government seems to be holding out for major change in 2013 when it plans to introduce a Personal Independence Payment which will only be granted after an independent assessment. To keep getting it claimants will also have to have regular reviews.

Why wait?

However, it begs the question of just why we have to wait yet another two years for change. Surely by continually bringing in new initiatives rather than operating the existing ones properly, the government can continue to bat away these appalling figures by talking about the reforms. In the interim it's going to cost us billions of pounds, which many people suspect are being paid to claimants who have no right to the benefit at all.

Surely the answer would be to run the current system properly. If you want to change the system further down the line then fine, but that's no excuse to let the current system run wild.
If they can't operate the proper checks on the DLA why should we trust them to do a better job with the new benefit?

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.