Editor's Viewpoint: Assessment system for PIP needs review
In theory, the decision to introduce universal credit and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) seemed a sensible one. The former replaced six previous benefits and therefore streamlined the system. The latter was instead of DLA, a benefit that was difficult to monitor and complex to deliver.
However, the practice has not matched the optimism of the theory. PIPs have been controversial since their introduction in Northern Ireland. There have been horror stories of people with terminal illnesses or other debilitating conditions being turned down for payments.
This newspaper can reveal the cost of reassessing applications which were either turned down or resulted in much reduced benefits.
Almost £5m has been spent on three tribunal panels since February 2017 and another 5,600 appeals have still to be heard - meaning the bill will soar.
Around one-third of applications made since February 2017 were turned down resulting in almost 49,000 appeals. That is an indictment of the system that so many cases are being turned down initially. With the reviews ongoing, already one-in-five people has had their claims amended.
This shows that a large percentage of the original decisions are deemed wrong on re-examination.
While claimants will welcome the decision to overturn the original verdict, the process has caused them enormous stress. They were left unsure of what, if any, level of benefit they would receive and the whole appeals process can take quite a lengthy period, leaving them struggling in many instances.
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There are more problems looming for those on benefits as the mitigating measures introduced by the Stormont Executive are due to expire later this year.
That means some people will lose part of their housing benefit in the so-called bedroom tax, which is unavoidable given the make-up of much of the social housing stock.
With the talks at Stormont appearing to be heading for deadlock again, there is little point in claimants appealing for help from their local politicians.
It is obvious that the whole system needs a review to see how the hopes of streamlining payments can be realised at last. The key is right at the coalface, the point at which claimants are initially assessed. Some of the decisions are so bizarre that there can be no excuses for allowing such errors to continue.