The head of a company assessing people in Wales for a new disability payment has admitted they are taking “significantly longer” than predicted. It comes after claims people in Wales with serious conditions like cancer are waiting too long to be assessed.
Stephen Duckworth, from Capita Personal Independence Payment, said face-to-face meetings with claimants were taking two hours rather than the one forecast.
The UK government says it is working with providers to improve performance.
Clwyd South MP Susan Elan Jones said the delays are making people miss out on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and led a Westminster Hall debate about the issue on Wednesday.
But the UK government said delayed payments will be back-dated.
The new payments are gradually replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which is paid to 140,000 adults in Wales. It is worth between £21 and £138 a week and by 2017 all claimants in Wales should have moved to PIPs.
Under the new system, claimants are assessed face-to-face and their situation is reviewed more often.
The UK government says the changes mean the benefit will be better targeted at those in greatest need.
In February the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report saying people are facing “distress and financial difficulties” because of the slow processing of claims under the new system.
Stephen Duckworth, chief executive of Capita Personal Independence Payment, told Radio Wales staff were having to have face-to-face meetings with most claimants but “the assessments as originally envisaged are taking significantly longer for health professionals to undertake”.
The assessments were initially forecast to last an hour, but the process was actually taking two hours, he said.
“Neither ourselves or the department had ever undertaken this brand new assessment before,” he added.
“It’s a completely new way of looking at the impact that an individual’s disability has on their daily living and mobility activities, so it’s proved to be far more complicated than was ever envisaged.”
Labour MP Ms Jones said people are missing out on the payments because of the backlogs.
She said: “This is a wake-up call for the Department for Work and Pensions and what the purpose of my debate is really is to say to the government ‘Come on, you need to sort this out’.
“This is public money that you are throwing down the drain, because you’re not doing this properly, and also you’re impacting on some of the most vulnerable people in Welsh society.”
Advanced cancer patient Jane Roberts, from Pentre Boughton near Wrexham, said she has not received any benefits since September last year when her DLA ended.
She called the new system “an absolute nightmare”, adding “everything is just up in the air”.
She told BBC Radio Wales: “I was advised I needed financial help in the period that I’m in at the moment and I turned to charities, who’ve been extremely helpful.
“Tenovus cancer charity have been extremely helpful, and I’ve spoken to their financial advisers who themselves have been amazed as to how little both myself and my husband have to live on.
“My husband has a basic pension and we have to survive on that.”
A Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “PIP is a completely new benefit with a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support goes to those who need it most.
“In some cases the end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.
“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is backdated so no-one is left out of pocket.”