Paul Cosier, Katrina Beitina and Marcia Hutchinson are volunteers at the Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC). This article collates widely-felt concerns as reported elsewhere about the Personal Independence Payment claim process, including some of the concerning case-studies regarding people with disabilities or chronic ailments and the difficulties they face in maintaining a claim.
GMLC challenges welfare policy where injustices occur, by drawing on their own casework experience and promoting the stories of those let down by the welfare system. At their recent AGM they announced plans for strategic litigation, where they will bring a legal challenge against welfare policy itself. This article is therefore part of the foundations for legal campaigning.
Paul also conducted a study of the ESA claim process for GMLC, which you can find here”.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are designed to help with the extra costs of a long-term health condition or disability. In March 2017, the Government made amendments to the PIP assessment criteria. The PIP assessment is points-based, which means you score points depending on how you perform different activities. There are 10 activities relating to your daily living needs and two activities relating to your mobility. The changes slightly restrict how a claimant can get points for one of the ten daily living activities, and one of the two mobility activities . The chief executives of more than 30 charities wrote to ministers urging them not to restrict access to a disability benefit in fear that people will be left without vital financial support .
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) co-chairman Phil Reynolds said: “Across the DBC we have had our helpline and advice services inundated by calls about PIP since it was introduced. Instead of supporting disabled people, the benefits system seems increasingly rigged against them. The whole system needs urgent improvement, in order to accurately assess the support they need. Disabled people cannot afford to wait.”
People who claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have to undergo a medical assessment, with the exception of those with a terminal disease . The purpose of this assessment is not to diagnose the claimant, but to establish how their life is affected by their condition . The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have set rules and guidelines on how such assessments ought to be carried out .
Two private companies, Atos and Capita, have secured contracts worth around £500 million to carry out the PIP medical assessments. These companies claim that they adhere to the assessment rules as set by the DWP who are the decision maker. Nonetheless, some claimants have reported being ‘informally observed’. This means that they are watched and their behaviour is monitored before the medical assessment has even begun, and this can be used against them. Other claimants have reported problems with the 20 metre mobility test and the unreliability of the assessment as a whole . These are just a couple of the biggest let-downs with the PIP medical assessment, which is supposed to pave the way to independence.
One of the claimants who was informally observed was Alastair Wardhaugh who underwent his medical assessment at an Atos centre. Mr Wardhaugh was born with congenital hydrocephalus and a form of spina bifida. He suffered paralysis on his left side following an injection at age 4, which left him struggling to walk. He walks about his house using a zimmer frame for support and can manage about 20 metres with a crutch, but is unsteady.
Mr Wardaugh was informally observed walking out of the centre and getting into his car – this was three months after he was released from hospital having fractured his right leg in four places after becoming unsteady and falling down stairs. Shockingly, he was ordered to surrender his mobility car as a result of the assessment.
Mr Wardhaugh said:
“I have survived hydrocephalus and 40 operations, but this is the worst. I will be robbed of my independence. Anybody to look at me would think I was Quasimodo’s stunt double and need my car to get anywhere, so I was absolutely devastated to learn they had exaggerated my walking capabilities.”
He said he has launched an appeal against the decision, but that could take up to a year to conclude, and in the meantime, he would be housebound .
An anonymous employee at an Atos call centre in the north of England has called for the Government to urgently review the broken system. The whistleblower revealed:
“You go into the office in the morning and the switchboard is absolutely rammed. Everyone is complaining about their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment and it is the same three stories that I hear over and over again. People are saying they feel the assessor pressurised them to say something that they wouldn’t normally, they feel the assessor tricked them, or they believe the assessor outright put something on the form that they didn’t say. I am not talking about a call here and there, I’m talking about a flood of complaints all day long, all saying the same things. All these people can’t be lying, there are hundreds of them. They make up the vast majority of the calls we receive “.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre exists to help people who are disabled or who have chronic ailments and are being moved from DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to PIP and are having their awards diluted or removed completely. Our caseworkers and solicitors can assist in completing the original questionnaires, escort claimants to their medical assessments, help with an appeal and represent the claimant at tribunal.
Please help us continue this vital work by becoming a member and making a small contribution each month.
By Paul Cosier, Katrina Beitina and Marcia Hutchinson.