DISABLED people have been plunged into poverty after being forced to wait six months for a botched new benefit, a damning report reveals today (Friday, June 19).

The chaotic introduction of the personal independence payment (PIP) – being piloted in this region – is condemned as “shocking” by a Commons committee.

Its report warns that:

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*Claimants are turning to food banks and charities after waiting more than six months for a decision

*One North-East woman in chronic pain waited eight months for an assessment – only to be told she must apply again, after her forms were lost.

*Even terminally ill people are waiting 28 days for a decision on average – a situation described as “particularly alarming”.

*A huge backlog of claims had built up by October last year, when the decision was taken to extend trials in parts of the North-East.

*Four in ten claimants must travel over an hour to be assessed – despite a promise that only around ten per cent would travel more than 30 minutes.

*Controversial contractor Atos made “misleading” claims of a network of centres ready to carry out assessments which “turned out not to be true”.

Margaret Hodge the chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), described the situation as a “fiasco”, adding: “The personal stories we heard were shocking.

“The most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong.

“Some claimants have been forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations to support the extra costs of living associated with their disability.”

Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who lives in Redcar, said: “This is causing a lot of worry that was just unnecessary.

“People have told me they were sent letters telling them their assessment was cancelled – only to be threatened, later, because they didn’t turn up.”

PIP – which replaces disability living allowance (DLA) - came in for new claimants across the North-East last year and, from February, for claimants “reporting a change in condition” in Darlington, York and Harrogate.

By 2018, 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.

Claimants needing help to pay for assistance will receive the standard weekly rate (£53) or the enhanced rate (£79.15) – with extra money to help with mobility.

But ministers have predicted that the number of disabled people receiving PIP will be 600,000 lower than if DLA had been retained.

In the North-East, Atos – the company stripped of the contract for re-testing incapacity benefit claimants, after similar failings – carries out PIP tests.

Today’s report accuses Atos of giving “incorrect and potentially misleading information” to win that contract, which ministers failed to challenge.