Charities have called for a “root and branch” review into lifeline benefits payments after almost 25,000 disabled people across Yorkshire launched tribunals in a bid to access the support they were entitled to, an investigation by The Yorkshire Post has revealed.
The number of people being awarded Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) after an appeal tribunal has risen each year since 2015/16, and the average time people are waiting for a decision is also increasing, analysis of Ministry of Justice figures reveal.
Charities have united in condemnation of the appeal figures, which they say are leaving disabled people stressed, overwhelmed and intimidated, and have called for “root and branch review” of PIP and its assessment system.
The figures show that 24,800 people in Yorkshire have had their ESA or PIP decision overturned in their favour at tribunal appeal since 2015/16 up to September 2018. The number is rising, from 4,473 in 2015/16 to 8,839 in 2017/18, and 4,089 from the first six months of 2018/19.
The proportion of all appeals being found in favour of the applicant has also gone up over the years, from 46 per cent in 2015/16, to 54 per cent in the first half of last year.
The waiting time for an appeal decision has got considerably worse, from an average of 20 weeks for 2015/16, to 33 weeks for the first half of 2018/19.
Head of policy and campaigns for Leonard Cheshire, Husna Mortuza, said: “These figures are sadly not surprising, given what we know about the shambolic way in which many decisions have been made.
“Earlier last year, the DWP itself identified major errors in assessments for PIP and payments of ESA, and these appear to have become routine. This has a devastating impact on disabled people.
“After a gruelling assessment process, many disabled people simply don’t have the energy or resources to face the appeal process. The reported increase in waiting times will do nothing but add further stress for people going through an already overwhelming and intimidating situation.”
Mel Wilkes, senior policy adviser at disability equality charity Scope said the Yorkshire figures were indicative of the national picture, where 71 per cent of decisions for PIP and ESA were overturned at appeal.
She said: “It is eroding trust in the system. Time and again decisions are not being made correctly first time round, information people are giving about living with their condition is not being recorded and additional evidence is not being taken into account.
“The system isn’t working and disabled people’s trust in the system is wearing thin. We want to see root and branch reform of the application system.”
Geoff Fimister, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents over 80 disability organisations, said: “Poor-quality assessments for PIP feed into poor-quality decisions by the DWP. Disabled people pay the price, in lost income if they don't appeal and long delays if they do. Either way, they are having to get by on much less than the law says they need.
“The DWP says it is committed to improvement. There is clearly a long way to go and the Disability Benefits Consortium will be watching closely.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said it was committed to ensuring that people with a health condition or disability get the support they’re entitled to.
She added: “Assessments for PIP and ESA are carried out by qualified health professionals, who combine their clinical knowledge with an understanding that not everyone with the same health condition or disability is impacted in the same way.
“A relatively small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal – 4 per cent for both PIP and ESA.
“In most successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more oral or written evidence.”
A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “We understand that delays can be stressful which is why we have appointed more than 370 new medical and disability panel members to speed up the appeals process.
“We also continue to appoint more judges and are developing a new digital system to improve processing of benefit appeals.”
How do the payments work?
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides financial support if you’re unable to work because of an illness or disability, or personalised help to work if you’re able to.
Personal Independence Payment began to replace Disability Living Allowance from 2013, and aim to help with some of the extra costs caused by long term ill-health or disability.
PIP is made up of two components called daily living and mobility, and each can be paid at either a standard or enhanced rate.
ESA and PIP claims that are not successful can go through a mandatory reconsideration, and then, if needed, an appeal tribunal.
If PIP and ESA claimants have not been awarded a rate, they will receive nothing throughout the appeal process, but could be eligible to claim Universal Credit or Job Seeker’s Allowance.