Readers of my blogs will remember that I have expressed great concern about the injustices that are regularly perpetrated by agents of the Department of Work and Pensions – injustices that are all too often not put right on mandatory reassessment within the Department.
In Stories of Injustice (9) I quoted this evidence from the Zacchaeus Trust, an advisory service in North Westminster of which I am proud to be a patron:
Our clients experience difficulty in understanding their rights which is why they cannot enforce them. We recently saw a client who had received a letter from the housing benefit department purporting to explain her entitlement which was 83 pages long. Even our trained advisers struggled to understand what was being said.
We also regularly see clients who have received notification from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) or their local authority that their benefits have been withdrawn or suspended without any explanation. They find it too difficult to negotiate past the gatekeeping that these departments protect themselves with so they cannot redress the problem as they don’t know what it is.
Our clients also do not have computers and suffer from language or literacy or mental health or other disability difficulties. We struggle to find interpreters who can help those with language difficulties as we cannot afford to pay fees.
Those who wish to challenge health assessments made by DWP cannot obtain medical reports without paying a fee which they cannot afford.
In a week in which a former justice minister, Lord McNally complained about people (like me) whingeing about the legal aid cuts, I am happy to report a problem of this kind which I helped to steer to a happy outcome.
The story of X
X is 51 years old. When she was 18, she was involved in a very serious road accident in which her left thigh was trapped underneath the wheel shaft of a double decker bus for an hour before a fire engine rolled the bus off her leg. She was fully conscious throughout, and she still suffers nightmares about the accident.
Her skin was ripped from her thigh during the accident, and she eventually had to undergo many skin grafts once the skin had been cut off. As a result, her left thigh is thinner than her left knee, which is now constantly swollen. She cannot bend her left knee, and she also suffered problems with her left hip and a dropped left foot.
She spent nearly nine months in hospital when she made as good a recovery as was possible. She was then able to walk without aids for a number of years, although she had a severe limp.
Osteo-arthritis was diagnosed, however, when she was 37 and it has gradually got worse, to the point that she is now on crutches. She has been told that her immune systems are too weak for her to have a knee replacement.
Her right leg and both her hips are also very arthritic. She cannot sleep for more than an hour at a time due to the pain in her hips.
Four years ago she started having problems with her eyes. She was told that these were due to the many doses of steroids she had been taking for her arthritis, which had brought on huge cataracts in both eyes. The cataracts have now been removed: the operation on her left eye took place last April.
Because of her constant pain she was taking 2 * 50 mg of tramadol and 2 * 500 mg of paracetamol every four hours. She has now been switched to morphine patches (10 mg every seven days), although she feels they are not working.
So far as her mobility is concerned, she walks on crutches, and she has not got the balance or ability to walk far without resting. She is in pain every time she walks, but she goes on walking because she wants to hold onto her independence. She is frightened of going anywhere without her sister who has been her rock. She is petrified of falling, and of being anywhere outside her house on her own. She has had many falls, both outside and in her bathroom.
She used to receive an appropriate Disability Living Allowance. She attended the PIP assessment with her sister. The experience took so much out of her she spent two days in bed in agony afterwards. When she was told that she had received a standard assessment for both the daily living component and the mobility component of her PIP, she asked for mandatory reconsideration of the mobility component.
When she contacted me out of the blue, she had just heard that on mandatory reconsideration the DWP had decided not to alter the mobility component to the enhanced rate. Although her doctor wrote in support of her application, no mention was made of his letter at any stage, and she is afraid it was ignored.
She told me:
It is hard enough being disabled in a society. People are constantly judging you more so than ever, alongside having to be scrutinised, poked and picked at because you’re disabled or not disabled enough.
Although I am not allowed – and I am certainly not qualified – to give legal advice, I was able to tell her what she needed to do in order to challenge this decision at a tribunal and to rearrange the scraps of information she had given me by email into a coherent statement of her history. I also told her she must seek help with her appeal. That was on 12th July.
She duly contacted the local office of Citizens Advice. I have just received this further message from her:
I sought the help of C.A.B. they were outstanding. [Y], my adviser, told me within 5 minutes the assessment was done wrong. I received a letter last Friday saying they had relooked at my claim again. I now have 12 points (previously 11), my “full mobility” back. My tribunal will no longer take place. Though I received no apology for stress and arguing with me on phone. My thanks to you for your reply and to [Y] and Citizens Advice Bureau, one of our greatest assets, hopefully no more reduced cuts to funding.
Hurrah for this
But how many people like X are continuing to suffer injustice because in the absence of legal aid lawyers and in a world of ever more complicated statutory schemes they do not know who to contact – and even an octogenarian former judge is better than nothing.
I was delighted I could help. This has always been one of my ambitions when writing these blogs. And without my help I believe that X would have been completely stuck.