One in four claiming disability benefits faces serious difficulties including delays, unfair dismissals and confusion over eligibility

Almost a quarter of all people applying for disability benefits to help them live independently are encountering serious difficulties, including delays, unfair dismissal of claims and confusion over eligibility, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. The scale of the problem with personal independence payments (PIP) means that needing help with the benefit is now the most common reason for approaching the national charity Citizens Advice charity, new figures show.

In June last year, the Public Accounts Committee described the implementation of PIP as “nothing short of a fiasco”. Figures for April this year show 11,500 people in one month went to Citizens Advice for help with the benefit in one month. This is a significant number given that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recorded only 52,000 new claimants and reassessments in the same month.

PIP began replacing the old disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013 as part of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare shake-up. In an attempt to slash the benefits bill, the criteria for receiving help became more stringent and most claimants will now be subject to constant reassessment. Since last month, almost everyone on DLA – apart from the most extreme long-term cases – has had to reapply for PIP.

The idea of the benefit is to provide financial support for disabled people who face the greatest challenges to be independent, regardless of whether they are in work. The payments range from £21.55 to £138.05 a week, depending on the severity of the condition, to help with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or disability.

In the past year, Citizens Advice received more than 100,000 queries about eligibility for PIP and more than 50,000 approaches about issues with a claim, including problems with delays. A significant number – more than 20,000 – also needed help with challenges and appeals after being turned down for the payment.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of the charity, said: “People’s ability to live independently is at risk due to PIP failures. People are experiencing problems with every part of the PIP application process, causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety for those going through a very difficult time. For too many people the system is not working. In order to fulfil its intention, the Government needs to ensure the PIP process is implemented properly and responds to people’s changing needs.”

Figures from the DWP published in June 2015 showed that delays for PIP had fallen to an average of 11 weeks for new claimants. However, Citizens Advice has evidence that some people are still waiting more than a year, and that delays to decisions have resulted in many people falling into debt and some relying on support from family members.

Shadow disability minister Kate Green said: “These figures make worrying reading. PIP can be a lifeline, helping disabled people and those living with serious illness such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease to meet the extra costs disabled people face. Yet the Government is recklessly pressing ahead to roll out the new benefit to all existing disability living allowance recipients rather than sorting out the problems that this research shows. It’s a recipe for chaos which will leave many disabled people facing hardship and distress.”

The majority of assessments in the UK – about 70 per cent – are handled by the controversial outsourcing giant Atos. Capita handles the remaining cases in Central England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Last year, Atos famously bought itself out of a contract assessing fitness to work tests for the DWP last year following years of protests and bad headlines – including that it found terminal cancer patients fit for work. Its role in PIP contracts has also been controversial.

An investigation by the Disability News Service last month found that the proportion of disabled people stuck in the queue to be assessed for PIP was more than five times higher in parts of the country managed by Atos than those managed by Capita. Nearly a third of new PIP claimants in Atos areas – Scotland, the North of England, London and southern England – waited longer than 20 weeks for a decision, official figures from 31 March showed.

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: “We are sorry that anyone has had to wait for their PIP claim and we have been clear that this has been unacceptable. We have done all we can to reduce delays quickly, while also making sure that we give each individual the time they need during an assessment.”

The disability charity Scope says that, like Citizens Advice, its helpline has been inundated with calls from people struggling with PIP. Negative decisions and poor decision-making are something the service says it hears about every day.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive of Scope, said: “We’ve heard from a large number of disabled people who used to receive DLA, but did not qualify when reassessed for PIP. Many of the callers said that their assessment report didn’t resemble what happened in their assessment.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. From higher energy bills to specialist equipment – our research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month. Extra costs payments – DLA and PIP – are a financial lifeline for disabled people.”

Clair, 32, a mother of three from Berkshire was in a serious car accident last year that left parts of her brain pushing down onto her spinal chord. She has mobility, vision and hearing problems and suffers from constant pain and nausea. She only receives £202 a fortnight in statutory sick pay and applied for PIP in July 2014. She was not given an assessment date until February this year and it was a two hour drive away. She suffers from severe motion sickness and vomited so much on the journey that it had to be abandoned and she was hospitalised for five days.

Clair was then forced to re-apply all over again and was only interviewed for it last week, when she discovered the waiting was not over: “They said the wait would be four to eight weeks, or a bit longer, which is a long time given I’ve been waiting since last year,” she said. She is due to have major brain surgery in the autumn and says the money “would make an absolutely massive difference; it would be a lifeline.”

Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who lobbies in the Lords for improvements to disability benefits, said: “Not only has the system changed, but there are new criteria, and the appeals process is more challenging. The cost of a decision being overturned because the wrong decision was made in the first place is such a waste.

“I am also concerned about the delays, and the percentage of people who are actually being transferred over [from DLA]. I think we are potentially seeing the tip of the iceberg and we are not going to know the full scale of the problems for another 12 months.”

Case study: “‘I can’t use my arms or legs, but I have to face a tribunal’”

Ronny Huelin, 52, lives in Rugby with her husband, Mike, 47, and daughter, Louise, 17

“I applied for PIP back in May on the advice of a neurological specialist treating me for an extreme version of restless leg syndrome. It’s like Parkinson’s and means I’ve lost function in my arms and legs. I can’t make the bed, wash my hair or Hoover; I can’t even pick up a kettle – it’s like I’ve got no muscles. In the night my legs and arms jerk so I wake up exhausted.

“I used to work as a teaching assistant but now I can only do playground duty for six and a quarter hours a week. I have no other income. My husband was made redundant as a warehouse operative recently. My husband and daughter help, but once she’s back at college and he’s back at work I don’t know what I’ll do. PIP would mean I could afford things like lighter pans that I can lift on my own and someone to help with cleaning.

“At the first PIP assessment I was given six points and needed eight. I appealed, and the second time they came back and gave me seven. They never spoke to the specialist who told me I should be eligible. Now I’ve had to take my case to a tribunal.”

The above article is copied from The Independent.

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  1. I keep emphasising, that for those who are still receiving DLA – as well as anyone facing PIP/ESA reassessment and already officially employ carers – it is unclear what they will do, for example during the Mandatory Reconsideration periods, and if they eventually are paid the assessment rate.

    They pay carers via the local authority ‘direct payments’ scheme or private companies that the LAs pay. The service user then has to pay a care contribution to the local authority for that. I can imagine, that the LAs might pay their side of things (but only after you’ve fought for some time over it), but what further complicates things is that the LAs ‘privatised’ parts of the Direct Payment users care plans, which would be impossible to pay out of no income obviously, but also for example out of the assessment rate which is set at the same level of JSA; you’d hardly afford to live, let alone pay a carer, cleaner, gardener etc.

    What happens when they can’t pay their contractual hours? What happens to the official carers who are suddenly left without a job? Are they expected to work for no pay? Is the disabled person expected to not receive care until they’ve won their appeal? What if they have no family or their friends are unable to help?

    I brought this up at my last care reassessment, but you see the ‘assessors’ aren’t degree educated social workers anymore, they’re at best administrative assistants, and I’m not saying anything derogatory about them, they’re just doing their jobs, but in answer to my question the assessor said ‘Well why wouldn’t you receive your benefits?’, as if she knew nothing of the problems faced by disabled people in relation to that. I explained it to her, but she still had no answer for me.

    Within the contracts that carers have to sign, there is a get out clause for the LA stating that payment and hours are dependent on whether the disabled employer can fund the care package. Presumably then: no money, no care package. That’s certainly well thought out isn’t it?

    So it looks like I’m going to have to go through what I did before, when I needed care but was waiting for appointments with social workers, and then waiting many more months before the care package was instigated. Wearing dirty clothes; living in a mess. I have a few friends but they’re retired and can’t help me to that extent, and family just aren’t able as they’re either ill/too old or have very young children, and don’t live locally.

    I can’t expect my carers just to keep missing months of work; they’ll have to find other work, then it will take ages before I can replace the staff. What is also not understood is that it’s hard enough forgoing your privacy in the beginning, so when you’ve had the same carers for many years, it’s unnerving and almost frightening to think of strangers being your carer’s, and knowing that like before, they won’t be permanent.

    It’s hard to live in the now and not to keep worrying, not only about this, but about your whole means of living; it has a devastating affect on your health. I was already chronically ill, but have now developed suspected Angina/heart problems along with deteriorating mental health, and it is certain that the situation that disabled people are forced to live with has a lot to do with their deterioration in health.

    I realise that there are scammers in the system. My carer told me about a documentary exposing that: false fit for work notes; tips on how to scam etc. But I would think that any of those who were just ‘putting it on’, and they are very few, would have found any way to get a job by now, and get out of this oppressive system. I’ve been wracking my brains for years to think of how I could do this, but I’m barely well enough to write here today, and it’s taken me all morning because of cognitive difficulties (sentences back to front; syntax etc).

    We are all so desperate to get from under the terrible grasp of the DWP.


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