The Public Services Ombudsman has proposed investigating how a department in Northern Ireland handles Personal Independence Payments (PIP) amid increasing concern over how the benefits are administrated.
Marie Anderson says she wants to launch an inquiry on her own initiative to investigate Stormont’s Department for Communities handles PIP claims.
Ms Anderson suspects “systemic maladministration” of PIP claims, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit in 2016.
The administration of PIP benefits around the UK has been criticised since it replaced DLA, with many people claiming they have wrongly missed out on funding to live independently.
The department maintained to the BBC that just six out of 160,000 decisions have been referred to it by the ombudsman.
Ms Anderson released a statement saying she has written to the department “stating that since June 2016 there have been a significant number of complaints about PIPs to her Office.”
Ms Anderson also noted the “high number” of the department’s decisions which have been overturned by an appeal tribunal.
She stated that she was satisfied that the criteria for an own initiative investigation have been met.
While the ombudsman often deals with complaints against public services, new powers given to Ms Anderson in 2016 mean she is allowed to investigate suspected maladministration even if her office has not received a complaint.
The Department for Communities said in a statement that its staff operated “within the appropriate statutory mechanisms”.
It said: “It is administered no differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, with the exception that, in Northern Ireland, welfare supplementary payments are available for those who are adversely impacted by welfare changes.”