Complaints to the DWP up nearly 30% in just one year

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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released its latest claimant complaints figures. The Canary has crunched the numbers. They show a sudden increase this year, coupled with a steady increase in the previous year. However, this seems like news to the DWP – when the Canary asked the department about the issue, it got the figures wrong.

DWP: complaints up this year

Claimants can complain about the DWP to the department itself. Alternatively, they can lodge a complaint with the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) – a separate government body from the DWP. Then, the DWP tracks complaints with rolling totals every three months of the financial year. In 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, this rolling total almost consistently reduced every three months, when compared to the same period the prior year. There was also an overall fall in 2019. This was partly due to the DWP refusing to take complaints about the women’s state pension age. Now, however, the DWP’s latest figures show a sudden increase compared to previous years.

From 1 April to 30 June:

  • 4,999 people complained to the DWP.
  • The ICE looked at 1,138 of these complaints.
  • It began formally investigating 416 of them.

Compared to the same period in 2021, these figures are a 29% rise in overall complaints and a 33% rise in the number of cases ICE is investigating. This represents 37% of all cases the DWP passed to ICE – the highest for this quarter since 2017.

Complaints also up on previous years

A DWP spokesperson told the Canary:

We work to support claimants as best we can, and whenever we receive a complaint we take it seriously and seek to follow appropriate processes. The number of complaints received by DWP has fallen for two consecutive quarters.

This is not correct. The number of complaints received hasn’t fallen for two consecutive quarters. From 1 October to 31 December 2020, people lodged 4,881 new complaints to the DWP. For the same period in 2021, the number was 5,388 – a 10.4% increase. 1 January to 31 March 2021 versus 1 January to 31 March 2022 saw a 17.6% increase, from 4,462 to 5,249 complaints. Prior to that, complaints had been falling – for example, from 1 July to 30 September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Read on...

This rise in complaints may well be driven by one social security entitlement: Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

PIP: explaining increased DWP complaints?

The number of households claiming Universal Credit went down by 3.7% in April 2022 compared to April 2021. However, the number of claimants of PIP went up by 10.9% in June 2022 versus June 2021.

Alongside this has come increased DWP chaos with the social security payment. For example, the Guardian reported that since the start of 2021, 59% of successful PIP claimant appeals were because the DWP made wrong decisions. Then, you have waiting times for results of claims consistently increasing since 2015. Citizens Advice said on 6 July:

the waiting list for an assessment now stands at 327,000 Disabled people, with an average waiting time of five months. Citizens Advice projects this means £294 million of payments that would be awarded are being held up.

The possibility of an increase in complaints to the DWP being related to PIP also fits with ICE data. This shows there was around a 49% increase in 2020/21 versus 2019/20 for complaints about disability benefits the DWP passed to ICE. ICE said that the “majority of cases” were about PIP.

DWP: still not fit for purpose

The DWP has historically either handled claimants’ complaints badly or attempted to deal with them behind closed doors. ICE has sometimes not performed much better.

The DWP overhauled its complaints procedures recently. However, this doesn’t appear to have affected the culture of it treating claimants so badly that they feel the need to complain. With new chancellor Jeremy Hunt expected to announce more austerity, and with the trajectory of complaints already rising, things will likely get worse.

Featured image via Wikimedia

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