Leeds woman shares 'incredibly distressing' disability benefits experience as campaigners call for action

A Leeds woman has shared her experience of the "incredibly distressing" process faced by disabled people applying for benefits as she backs calls for a system overhaul.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 4:45 am

Campaigners say there should be an option to have a specialist assessor examine an individual case to avoid millions of pounds being wasted on fixing wrong decisions.

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A mistaken benefits decision is overturned every minute of the working day, the charity Scope said, with thousands of disabled people fighting to access the main disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

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Carol Vickers, from Leeds, has multiple health conditions, including the connective tissue disorder hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and osteoarthritis, which make walking painful. Picture: PA

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it gets the decision right for the majority of PIP claims, and that all healthcare professionals employed by assessment providers are trained in evaluating how someone’s condition affects their daily life.

Carol Vickers, from Leeds, has multiple health conditions, including connective tissue disorder hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and osteoarthritis, which make walking painful.

Following her most recent reassessment, the 44-year-old was told she could no longer receive the mobility element of PIP as well as the daily living portion.

She said her assessor had appeared not to think pain was a factor and had produced a “wildly inaccurate” report, so she challenged the decision.

But she was unsuccessful and did not proceed to appeal at tribunal because she felt exhausted and distressed by the process.

She said: “It would have really helped having an assessor who understands my conditions.

“The assessment feels like you’re being interrogated and they’re trying to catch you out.

“And that’s incredibly distressing when you’re somebody who’s proud that they try so hard to overcome all the barriers they face on a daily basis.

“The whole system makes me anxious, makes me worry for my future security, and makes me feel like a lesser human.”

More than 10,000 campaigners have backed Scope's petition calling for claimants to have the right to request a specialist assessor when they apply through the DWP.

PIP can help people with the extra living costs associated with their long-term condition and is split into two parts: mobility and daily living.

Applicants who are unhappy with a decision can appeal through mandatory reconsideration, where a different DWP adviser looks at the case again and decides if the outcome should be changed.

If it is not changed, they can then appeal at a tribunal which is independent from the DWP.

Scope analysed Government data on mandatory reconsiderations and tribunals which shows more than 12,000 disabled people are overturning wrong PIP decisions every month.

Between July 2019 and June 2021, on average there have been 12,579 successful appeals every month.

This equates to 1.3 decisions per minute of the working week, based on five eight-hour days.

The charity has launched a campaign, Disability Benefits Without The Fight, calling on the Government to make sure disabled people get the right decision the first time around.

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at Scope, said the system leaves disabled people facing months of “unbearable stress” and anxiety over not being believed.

He said: “These wrong decisions throw a person’s life into turmoil. Having to fight for financial support puts a huge toll on disabled people’s mental and physical health and can plunge families into poverty.

“Disabled people are being systematically failed. The benefits system should work for disabled people, not against them.

“We’ve heard from huge numbers of disabled people who felt their assessors did not understand their condition or how it affects their life. The system is getting it wrong far too many times.”

He said millions of pounds are being wasted on fixing wrong decisions and disabled people must be assessed first time around by someone with specialist knowledge who can understand the impact of their condition.

Figures obtained by The Independent show the Government spent more than £120m on disability benefit claim appeals for PIP and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) between 2017 and 2019.

The DWP said that, of 4.4 million initial decisions between April 2013 and March 2021, 9% had been appealed and 5% overturned at tribunal.

A spokeswoman said: “For the majority of PIP claims, we get decisions right and all assessments are carried out by healthcare professionals trained to consider the impact of someone’s health condition or disability, but we are exploring what more we can do so the welfare system better meets the needs of disabled people through our Health and Disability Green Paper.”

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