Disabled and vulnerable people waiting to hear if they are eligible for extra benefit payments are facing a further delay of three months.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has paused work on its long-running review connected to personal independence payments (PIP) due to the increased demand for financial support linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
Around 1.2 million claims for Universal Credit have been made in the last three weeks as people either lose their jobs or face increased financial pressure, stretching the DWP staff.
The delay decision is a further indicator of the secondary effects of the immediate action to respond to Covid-19.
In a letter, DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield told MPs: “We are pausing all the administrative exercises the department was undertaking, such as the exercise we were carrying out because of the MH and RJ upper tribunal decisions in PIP.
“We will also be postponing work on a number of exercises where these are yet to start.
“This will be for an initial period of three months, up until the end of June, but we will keep this under review, depending on developments with coronavirus and the demands on our services.
“We will restart work as quickly as possible, when the timing is appropriate.”
In a note to claimants on the Government’s website, it adds as a result of the focus on responding to the Covid-19 outbreak, “we will not be looking at claims to check if this change means you may be eligible for more PIP”.
It then reiterates the timing of the pause.
The DWP has been conducting a review since June 2018 and it was triggered by two legal rulings.
The first required the department to look again at considering how “overwhelming psychological distress” affects a claimant’s ability to plan and follow a journey.
The second changed the way the department considers if a claimant can complete a PIP activity safely and if supervision is required, including the likelihood and severity of any harm.
As part of the review, the DWP is assessing whether the changes mean claimants entitled to PIP on the date of the upper tribunal decisions are eligible for more support under the scheme.
The department said it had pledged to complete the work in 2020, and latest figures showed around 720,000 cases had been cleared against the first decision and around 820,000 against the second.
The data, as of January, also showed the “arrears payments the department has paid out is around £28 million”.
PIP is designed to help people with the extra costs associated with long-term ill health or disability.