18th August 2016
Problems with the flawed computer system used to deal with claims for the government’s new disability benefit have left hundreds of callers stuck in lengthy telephone queues.
The system used for new personal independence payment (PIP) claims has crashed twice in a fortnight, leaving disabled callers unable to get through to lodge their claims.
On 28 July, PIP claimants were unable to reach the helpline for five hours, with call handlers not able to receive any calls, a whistle-blower has told Disability News Service (DNS).
And less than two weeks later, on 9 August, there was a crash of the CAMlite software – used across DWP as part of the move towards universal credit – leaving call-handlers unable to take any calls for more than four hours.
The problems have been worsened by the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to send out more than 40,000 letters in August to recipients of working-age disability living allowance (DLA), telling them they need to apply for the replacement benefit PIP, as part of the process to reassess every working-age DLA claimant.
The problems are just the latest to have hit the computer system used to deal with new PIP claimants, with DWP continuing to deny that it is fundamentally flawed.
Earlier this summer, DWP claimed that the system – designed and maintained by IT giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise – was just being affected by minor “technical glitches”.
That response came despite a whistle-blower telling DNS that the PIP CS software designed to deal specifically with PIP claims was “appallingly bad”.
The whistle-blower told DNS earlier this year that the software was so poor that, at least once a month, staff were unable to process claims coming through on the helpline and had to tell callers to ring again, because of problems with the system.
The whistle-blower, who works for Serco, the company that runs the telephone helpline that deals with all new PIP claims, said DWP had “messed up” by sending out too many letters to DLA claimants in August.
They said: “As a result, on August 1st, 2nd and 3rd, there were over 300 callers in the queue, with waiting times well over 20 minutes.
“On every day since then there have been times when the queue was over 100 callers.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are aware that there have been intermittent IT issues which have impacted our PIP telephony services.
“As with any IT systems, it is inevitable that from time to time there will be technical issues.
“We work hard to fix any issues as soon as they arise and all claims are processed with the minimum delay possible – in fact, PIP claims are now being cleared four times faster [than] they were in January 2014.”
She said the latest problems “have been fixed and the PIP telephony services are working normally”.
She added: “We continue to monitor the service closely and identify opportunities to improve our systems.
“Our processes are kept under regular review and are closely monitored to ensure that any disruption to claimants is kept to a minimum and that claims continue to progress smoothly.”
PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age DLA, has been mired in controversy, delays and backlogs ever since its launch in April 2013.
DNS reported last month that Motability expected that 35,000 vehicles would have to be handed back by disabled people during 2016 as a result of the government’s programme to reassess people for PIP, and cut at least 20 per cent from spending on working-age DLA.
Activists who took part in a national day of action last month – organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), WinVisible and the Mental Health Resistance Network – said they believed PIP was “rotten to the core” and pointed to growing evidence of the “shoddy nature” of PIP assessments, carried out by the government’s contractors, Capita and Atos.
In February, DWP figures revealed that only two-thirds (68 per cent) of PIP claimants were satisfied with the service they received from DWP, compared with an average of 82 per cent across all 10 benefits surveyed.