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40,000 disabled claimants threatened with termination due to DWP’s tech problems

The ongoing saga of the move from the working age disability living allowance to Personal Independence Payments has once more shown the DWP’s incompetence. In August 40,000 letters were sent out to benefit claimants informing them their DLA would be cancelled and they had 28 days to apply for PIP. Then the computers crashed.

On the 28th of July the systems crashed for 5 hours. Claimants were unable to contact anyone and handlers could receive no calls. Less than a fortnight later, on the 9th of August, the system crashed again, leaving another four hours where desperate claimants couldn’t contact anyone. The system involved was CAMlite, which has previously made headlines for the Universal Credit failures.

A Serco whistleblower, speaking to the Disability News Network, has described just some of the appalling problems. The phone lines were constantly busy. At times there were upwards of 300 people in the queue, even at quiet times there were still 100s. Wait times often stretched past 20 minutes. User satisfaction was around 20% lower than for other claimants.

The whistleblower seemed dismayed with the system, outsourced to computer giant Hewlett Packard. They pointed to repeated technical faults leaving people unable to process any claims for several hours. This happened at least once a month, requiring staff to ask claimants, who had limited time and resources, to call back later.

If a claimant fails to lodge a new claim within a 28 day period then their claim will be terminated. This necessitates a significant amount of time and money being wasted re-assessing and reinstating the claim, not to mention the cost to personal wellbeing.

Termination of claims can also cause other issues. A large number of DLA and PIP claimants undertake courses at colleges, these are funded due to their status. Without that benefit claim the students may find themselves suddenly liable for up to £2000 in fees. This can be hugely disruptive and very costly.

There have also been concerns, going back over several years, that the DWP’s letters do not make it clear how these cancellations work. This lack of clarity has led to several claimants failing to meet deadlines and being sanctioned.

The letters, seen online, look similar to other DWP circulars which contain little information and so are dismissed. They are vaguely worded and contain, in a page of writing, a single paragraph on the transfer to PIP.

In April the DWP were already attracting criticism when it claimed to have sent Patricia Sadowski, single mother of two, two letters advising her to transfer to PIP.

Sadowski denied having received the letters and admitted if she had she likely wouldn’t have realised their importance. Sadowski has a lifetime award for severe disability and should have had no trouble claiming her benefits. She has had to undertake a several month fight for justice.

It seems clear that the DWP’s continued incompetence is now causing severe problems. Sadowski’s case is likely not the only one but her decision to speak should be praised. The same extends to the Serco whistleblower who has pointed to that company’s failures.

The series of computer troubles and lack of adequate phone lines speaks volumes about this Government’s disregard for the disabled. The fact that they have outsourced such a vital service, and the company isn’t up to the job, is symbolic of far more than the DWP. We need nationalisation now, disabled Britons deserve better.

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