Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form: 200,000 got handouts last year without face-to-face interview

Another British bureaucracy that is totally incompetent

Almost 200,000 people were granted a disability benefit last year without ever having a face-to-face assessment. A staggering 94 per cent of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance started receiving their payments after only filling out paperwork.

Official figures released last night revealed that 16 per cent of new claimants received the benefit – worth £70 a week – after merely filling out a claim form. A further 36 per cent provided supporting evidence, while another 42 per cent provided a GP report, according to the Department for Work and Pensions. In total they were paid more than £300million last year.

The figures mean only 6 per cent of new claimants got their money after a face-to-face assessment. Critics warned that thousands of benefits cheats were being allowed to ‘slip through the net’ while changes to the system come into force.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was wrong that so many people who are paid the benefit were not asked for any evidence to support their claim beyond sending some paperwork in the post – and then get to keep it for years without being reassessed.

Ministers are replacing DLA with a Personal Independence Payment. Under the new system, every case will have to be assessed by a health care professional, usually in person. But the new system does not come into force until 2013/14.

DLA is currently paid to 3.2million at an annual cost of £12billion – the same as the Department of Transport’s entire budget for 2010/11. It is designed to help those who have specific mobility or care needs, and cannot do things like walk or wash and dress themselves. It is paid most often for arthritis, learning difficulties, psychosis and back pain.

This makes it different from Incapacity Benefit – now renamed Employment and Support Allowance – which is paid to people because they are not well enough to work.

The number of people claiming DLA has soared by more than two million from 1.1million in 1992. More than 70 per cent of existing claimants are on DLA for life without facing any regular checks. Fraud and error statistics show that £600million is currently wasted on DLA in overpayments.

There is increasing political controversy over Mr Duncan Smith’s pledge to slash £2.17billion from the vast annual bill for DLA by 2015. Cuts to DLA are increasingly being criticised by charities and opposition MPs. Disability campaigners have warned that the new testing regime is flawed and has prompted fear and anxiety among the most vulnerable people in society.

But ministers say face-to-face assessments are essential to make sure the benefit is going to those with the greatest need. Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘At the moment, hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form. ‘We are introducing the Personal Independence Payment with a new objective assessment and regular reviews to make sure people are getting the right levels of support.

‘The face-to-face assessment will also give people the chance to meet with a healthcare professional and discuss their condition, rather than trying to self-assess.’

Evidence suggests that only a very small proportion of DLA claimants will get the benefit under the new testing regime.

Ministers have already switched to more stringent assessments for the replacement for Incapacity Benefit – and found that only 7 per cent of new claimants are sick enough to receive the handout. Thirty-nine per cent of first-time claimants for the new Employment and Support Allowance were deemed fit enough to work.

A third dropped their application before it was completed, while a further 17 per cent were judged able to do some form of work with the right help and support.

Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: ‘The Coalition is bringing in changes to welfare that will mean fewer people can abuse taxpayers’ money by wrongly claiming DLA. However, whilst we wait for these changes to come fully into effect there is a chance that more cheats have slipped through the net.’

But Labour councillor Neil Coyle, of the Disability Alliance, which represents 250 disability charities, said face-to-face tests would cost £675million.


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