3 July 2014
Scottish cancer patients are struggling to meet basic living costs because of huge delays in processing vital disability benefits.
New research carried out by IFF Research on behalf of Macmillan found that 4500 people, roughly 30% of UK cancer patients, had to wait six months or more to be told whether they'd be awarded the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), while some hadn't even been asked to attend an assessment.
Our research found the average waiting time was almost five months, and these delays are on top of the already lengthy three-month qualifying period cancer patients are forced to endure before they're eligible to apply for PIP.
As PIP is given to people who face increased costs because of their illness, Macmillan believe these delays mean some patients are struggling to cover basic costs.
This research found 40% of those waiting for PIP were unable to adequately heat their homes, while a third believed the delays had made them anxious and depressed.
Breast cancer patient Helen Thewliss from East Kilbride waited 11 months for her benefit to be confirmed, "I'm so angry I had to wait so long. When I called Atos Healthcare, all they told me was my name was on a spreadsheet and they’d get to me. I'd almost given up when I finally got an appointment for a nurse to come and see me.
"What really made me angry was the nurse assessed me on my needs now, not when I applied. It was ok for me as my condition was pretty consistent, but other people's situations can change so much in 11 months. Something really needs to be done to fix the system, as it’s disgraceful people are waiting so long for money they desperately need."
Macmillan’s senior welfare right project manager, Thomas Gorman, added: "This research shows what I’ve been hearing from our staff on the ground for months. Cancer patients in Scotland are sinking beneath the weight of the extra costs they face because of illness, and decisions on whether they should get PIP or not are held up for unacceptable and unjustifiable periods of time."
"These delays are a further blow to cancer patients, who have to prove that they've been affected for at least three months before they can even claim this benefit. The Government must act now to tackle this problem."
Macmillan’s Waiting to benefit report, the first-ever report looking at the impact of the new disability benefit for cancer patients, surveyed 210 cancer patients who've been supported by Macmillan’s benefits advice services.
This report revealed the average cancer patient waits 19 weeks before finding out if their claim is successful, up from the 11 week wait patients faced under the previous system that paid out Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
The report also found nearly half of all cancer patients were dissatisfied with the overall claim process, with a third saying this was down to lengthy delays and almost a quarter blaming poor communication from the Department of Work and Pensions.
Macmillan is calling on the Government to urgently improve the PIP claims process and commit to reducing waiting times to back to 11 weeks. We also want the government to pause transferring cancer patients still on DLA onto PIP, until the claims process for the this works more efficiently.
Macmillan has a network of benefits advice services across Scotland, and to find one near you visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 0000.