‘Disabled Neil Barker says his ‘life is on hold’ after waiting a year for an independent tribunal into his benefits application.
The psoriatic arthritis sufferer underwent an assessment for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) on February 12, 2018, but his application was refused.
He appealed the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), but this was again refused in April last year.
The 36-year-old then applied for an independent tribunal. Yet he has still not been given a date.
Now Neil, from Longton, says his life has been on hold for more than 14 months because he feels the Government is too preoccupied with Brexit to deal with his application.
Neil, from Priestley Drive, said: “Around about 18 months ago when I was at work, I started to have a lot of trouble with my feet and knees. Then I started to get bad psoriasis on my head, which started to spread. I’ve always had psoriasis, but never to the extent I was getting it now.
“I went to see a doctor and I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which means that I’ve got arthritis in the traditional sense which affects my joints, but it’s linked to psoriasis. I’ve not been able to work since.
“The biggest way it affects me is my mobility. I’m not able to get out much and I can’t walk that far without my joints hurting and having to sit down and that obviously limits where I can go.
“Before all of this, I used to enjoy climbing and different activities and now I can’t do anything like that anymore. People can’t see my condition and they expect it to affect people in their 70s and 80s, so I find it difficult.
“A friend suggested to me that I should apply for PIP, so I did, and I was sent for an assessment with Capita. When I was there, I was a bit nervous, but I didn’t think too much about it because I thought I’m telling the truth.”
When Neil received the report stating his application had been refused, he claims he found significant errors within his assessment.
He said: “The paperwork said I could lift my arms above my head – but one of my most painful joints is my right shoulder and I can barely lift my arm up.
“There were lots of little things like that which added up to them saying that there was nothing wrong with me. But my doctors are saying that there is. I have to take strong painkillers every day.
“If it had been a fair report, it would be a different story. But because it wasn’t, I appealed. The DWP were using the same report so, of course, it was refused again.
“I then applied for an independent tribunal. I was told initially that it would take about 40 weeks, but then it became 53 weeks and now it’s been pushed back to 56.
“If I didn’t have my parents, who have let me come back home, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m just sitting, waiting for the tribunal.
“I’ve always worked and I love being around people. I was independent living on my own and was planning to save up to buy my own house before this.
“I worry for the people who are living alone with worse conditions than myself, who are also having their appeals pushed back.”
HM Courts and Tribunals said it is developing a new digital system to speed up the process. A spokesman added: “We understand that delays can be stressful, which is why we continue to appoint more judges and tribunal panel members, are developing a new digital system to speed up the appeals process and are expanding the use of triage sessions in the region.
“These sessions give panels the power to resolve appeals without an oral hearing or the need for more evidence to be gathered which help speed up the courts process.
“An urgent hearing application can be made in exceptional cases where waiting times are excessive.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We’re committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the individual, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.
“If a claimant disagrees with their assessment then they can appeal to an independent tribunal, which is entirely separate from the DWP.”’