The DWP took an "unlawful and unacceptably long time" to make social security payments to two unnamed disabled people, the High Court has ruled.
The pair waited nine months before they received any payments, a delay they said left them reliant on food banks and high-interest payday lending.
The benefit in question was the Government's new "Personal Independent Payment" (PIP) which replaces the previous Disability Living Allowance.
There are 78,700 outstanding claims for PIP, according to official figures.
It is not unusual for claimants to wait months to hear back about whether their claim has been accepted.
Over 3,000 of current outstanding claimants have waited more than a year and nearly 23,000 have waited more than 20 weeks.
An independent government-backed review of the new benefit presented to Parliament last year found that backlogs in the assessment process had had a "major impact" on claimants' lives.
"The primary focus of early comment and attention on PIP has been the unfortunate reality of long delays and backlogs in the assessment process," the report's authors wrote. "These have had a major impact on many claimants for PIP so far."
The review said claimants' experience of the system needed to be improved, that the claiming process needed to be clarified, and that the benefit needed to be made fairer and more consistent.
The disability charity Scope acknowledged that delays had been reduced since the new benefit's launch but questioned how planned cuts to the welfare budget would be made without impacting upon those with disabilities.
“This judgement demonstrates the importance of extra costs payments to disabled people," Elliot Dunster, head of policy, research and public affairs at the charity said.
“Life costs more if you are disabled. Scope research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month. Extra costs can make it extremely hard for disabled people to pay the bills. Every day without them is another day unable to afford the essentials in life.
“It’s positive that delays have been dramatically reduced. As speculation grows about where the Chancellor will find his promised £12 billion savings from the welfare budget, disabled people are looking to him to protect the financial support they receive.”
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
PIP is a working-age benefit and helps with extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or disability.
The judge concluded that the delay in both cases was "not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant [the DWP], but was unlawful".
In a statement handed to the Independent the DWP did not directly address the judge's ruling that the delays were unlawful and instead focused on the fact that human rights law was not found to have been breached.
“The Court has rightly dismissed the claimants' absurd suggestion that their human rights had been breached. As a result they are not entitled to damages," Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, said.
“We have taken decisive action to speed up PIP waiting times and we are pleased the Court has recognised the huge progress made. The average new PIP claimant now waits only seven weeks for an assessment.”
“In my judgment, the delay in claimant C’s case from 9 September 2013 until the determination of her benefit on 24 October 2014 of some thirteen months and the delay in claimant W’s case from 3 February 2014 until December 2014 of some ten months was not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but was unlawful," the judge said.
The Department recently drew up proposals to reduce payments to some disabled people under a scheme designed to help cover the costs of work.Reuse content