A NEW benefits test for disabled people – being piloted in the region – may be causing delays and anxiety unnecessarily, the first results suggest.
Successful new claims for the personal independence payment (PIP) are higher than for disability living allowance (DLA), the award it will gradually replace.
Yet ministers insist PIP is badly needed because DLA is confusing, outdated and leading to a ballooning benefits bill - £13bn and rising.
Meanwhile, the new test – involving face-to-face medical assessments - has been blamed for clogging up the system, leaving disabled people waiting for a decision.
Nevertheless, it has been introduced for DLA claimants “reporting a change in condition” in Darlington, York and Harrogate, from this month.
And, eventually, around 210,000 disabled people in the North-East and North Yorkshire will all be re-tested and either moved onto PIP, or denied payments.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s most successful Paralympian, who lives in Redcar, has warned the shake-up has left many “really scared”.
Now results from around 44,000 tests for new PIP claimants, including many thousand in the North-East, show almost exactly half were approved.
Scope, the disability charity, pointed out that the success rate was higher than for claims for DLA in 2011-12 – which was 44 per cent.
Last autumn, ministers were forced to delay the introduction of PIP nationwide because assessments were taking so long.
Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, said it was still impossible to tell how much stricter the assessment is for PIP than for DLA.
But he defended the need for such benefits, saying: “At every turn disabled people have to pay more than other consumers.
“Basic things such as travelling to work or cleaning the house cost more if you are disabled. DLA was brought in to help people meet those extra costs.
“DLA needed reform, but disabled people are concerned by the fact that they are predicting how many people will lose support before they have tested everyone.”
Ministers have predicted the number of disabled people receiving PIP will be 600,000 lower than if DLA had been retained.
DLA claimants receive between £20 and £125 a week to help them look after themselves, pay for assistance and get out of the house.
Claimants judged in need of PIP will either receive the standard weekly rate (£53) or the enhanced rate (£79.15) – with extra money to help with mobility.
Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, said PIP would better reflect the need to help people with “mental health and fluctuating conditions”.