Terminally ill cancer patients are facing "severe" delays in receiving benefit payments under the Government's flagship new welfare system for disabled people, with dozens of people dying before ever receiving payments, a leading charity has warned.
Macmillan Cancer Support branded delays in processing personal independence payment (PIP) claims "deplorable", while the official responsible for the introduction of the system admitted to MPs that some patients with fatal conditions had suffered "awful experiences" because of a service that was "not up to standard".
Minister for disabled people Mike Penning told the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee that changes had been implemented to speed up the system. He said he wanted to cut the wait for PIP payments for terminally ill claimants to seven days, though he stressed he was not setting this as a formal target.
PIP provides between £21 and £134 a week to help people aged 16-64 with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill health or disability, and began replacing disability living allowance in April this year.
Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Terminally ill cancer patients are facing severe delays in receiving their benefits under the new personal independence payment special rules claim. We know that a quarter of our benefits advisers surveyed have come across someone who has died before receiving their benefit - this is simply deplorable.
"Under the old system cancer patients only had to wait 10 days maximum before receiving their benefits. We have raised these concerns with the Government and are hopeful that working together we can develop a solution. We want them to set targets to process all claims in eight to 10 days as a matter of urgency."
At a hearing of the committee, Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris challenged Mr Penning on the "unhappy statistics" produced by Macmillan, telling him: "They raise concerns about these individuals worrying because of debt issues - just the sort of things you don't want people who are terminally ill worrying about."
Department for Work and Pensions benefits director Jason Feeney told the committee: "As the operational director for delivering PIP I would absolutely say that the service we gave to some terminally ill claimants at the beginning of PIP wasn't up to standard and wasn't where we would expect to be. I wouldn't try to claim otherwise.
"There were some awful experiences that some people went through.
"We have made a number of changes to the process since we introduced it. We now have dedicated teams in our centres for terminally ill claimants."
Thanks to improvements in the use of IT, most of these claims are now being dealt with within 16 days, and 7,000 out of 8,000 claims from terminally ill people have been processed, said Mr Feeney.
Mr Penning said that the DWP had been in talks with Macmillan on how services could be improved.
And he said he would use the force of "my size 10 boots" to make sure the department speeds the system up.
"I don't see any reason why this couldn't be turned round in seven days," Mr Penning told the committee. "That would be my perfect situation.
"I can't say that every single one would be turned round in seven days, but seven days must be better, which is a lot better than DLA was.
"I have a passion about this, not just because it has touched my life, but because this is a moral position that we should be in. As long as I am a minister, I want to see seven days, I can't see any reason why we can't hit seven days and they will have to explain to me why we can't hit seven days, or even less."