Readers of these blogs will know I have been telling stories of the injustices caused to severely disabled people by the incompetence, delay and wholly avoidable mistakes they have been encountering in their struggles with the new assessment arrangements. Mercifully, the new minister, Damian Green MP, has spotted one pretty obvious thing that seems to have escaped the notice of his predecessors – that if one has an incurable disability which can only get worse, continued (or any) reassessments are unnecessary and will only go to increase the hardship caused by the disability itself.
In my last blogs in this series I identified a number of useful websites which provide useful information about aspects of PIP applications in a clear and helpful way.
And I continue to welcome the receipt of real life stories, which may be the only way to persuade ministers that there are still things which are seriously wrong.
Here is the latest story from the front line, sent to me this week by someone who contacted me through this blogsite. It is in two parts.
1/2 Personal Independence Payment
My husband AB applied for PIP on 17 September 2013. The fact that his claim has still not been resolved correctly should give an insight into the difficulties we have encountered.
By October 2014 he was still waiting for an assessment appointment from Atos Healthcare. At this point we asked for help from our wonderful MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston. Thanks to her intervention, AB had a face to face consultation at home on 3 November 2014 and was supported in this by his COPD Nurse Specialist.
When he received his decision from the DWP Case Manager, we were surprised that he had been awarded only the standard rate of the mobility component. He fell short of an award of the daily living component at the standard rate by one point, scoring only 7 points. Considering the amount and quality of the supporting evidence that had been provided, this decision was completely unexpected.
A Mandatory Reconsideration didn’t alter the decision. This may have been due to the fact that the Case Manager ignored AB’s evidence, and didn’t wait for a further letter from his COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) Specialist Nurse as we had requested.
We made a request for an appeal to HMCTS Cardiff. Unfortunately, between the Tribunal Service and the DWP things started to go downhill rather rapidly.
Important documents were lost, the appeal bundle was never sent to AB’s representative, and important and very relevant evidence was delayed in being sent between the two establishments. I believe that certain evidence wasn’t seen by a Case Manager until after the appeal.
AB was given a hearing at Newton Abbot Magistrates Court. As this court did not meet the special needs he had indicated on the appeal form, we wrote to the Tribunal Service explaining why this venue would be difficult for us and asking for an alternative. Our request was refused.
AB’s representative was unable to attend on the day due to ill health, so we were very stressed in what, to us, was an extremely intimidating environment.
The Tribunal awarded AB the enhanced rate of the mobility component and maintained the daily living score at 7 points. Yet again we had to ask for Dr Wollaston’s help to get the DWP to pay the arrears owed.
After I had requested and read the Statement of Reasons and the Record of the Proceedings, I felt that there were several points that appeared to be in error.
We visited a very well known advice charity to see if they would help us ask for permission to appeal. Unfortunately, we were told not to bother.
At this point I wrote to the DWP confirming that AB’s daily living needs had increased 3 months previously. We submitted virtually the same evidence used in the original decision, mandatory reconsideration and appeal.
After a much fairer Health Care Partners (HCP) consultation, AB was awarded the enhanced rate for both components.
My complaints to the DWP regarding the delays and errors fell on deaf ears, so I escalated the complaint to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE). During a telephone conversation with the ICE adviser, I was even more convinced that the Tribunal had erred.
By now the application was late, but after studying copious amounts of case law from the superb BAILII Databases, I requested Leave to Appeal from the First-tier Tribunal. This was refused but with great help from the Avon & Bristol Law Centre, the Appeal to the Upper Tribunal was successful.
Upper Tribunal Judge Hemingway agreed that an error of law had occurred and remitted the case to a newly constituted First-tier Tribunal. The Secretary of State’s representative also supported the appeal.
I have submitted yet another written submission which will hopefully focus the new Tribunal and the DWP on the issues that are in question.
We are now just waiting for the date of the new hearing.
This has been an arduous and enduring journey and in terms of my health, I have paid a very high price. I have been so very close to giving up on many occasions.
2/2 Employment & Support Allowance
I have substantial physical and mental health disabilities. Consequently, I have been receiving ESA with the Support Component and Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Higher Rate Care and Mobility for several years.
When, in June 2014 my husband AB had to leave his employment of over 30 years due to a severe deterioration of his COPD symptoms, we contacted our local Job Centre to ask how he should go about claiming ESA.
We were told that he should make a separate claim. There then followed many months of inaccurate calculations of our applicable amount, which yet again needed Dr Wollaston’s help to resolve. These errors, which included help with our mortgage payments, were finally resolved in August 2015, and a payment of arrears was made.
I am now in the process of yet again questioning whether we were originally given the correct information. My on-line searches seem to suggest that when I notified the DWP on the 1 July 2014 of a change of circumstance, namely that my husband was no longer employed, this should have prompted the Secretary of State’s representative to carry out a supersession exercise to see if I was eligible for any Income Based ESA in addition to the Contributions Based allowance I was already receiving: specifically, any addition for mortgage costs, as I had been in receipt of ‘an employment and support allowance’ for far in excess of the waiting period at that time of 13 weeks.
I must admit our health has taken a serious downturn over the last few years. The stress caused by having to prove over and over again just how disabled and inadequate we are is simply immense.
We were both employed in highly regarded positions and would resume those duties in a heartbeat if we had the good health to do so.
For most of us, two or three years seem a very long time. To the seriously disabled, waiting for the help to which they are entitled, it must seem like a lifetime.
So many mistakes by so many people! Only Dr Sarah Wollaston MP and my own special contribution to human happiness, BAILII (BAILII: The British & Irish Legal Information Institute) seem to have come through with flying colours.
And the refusal to move a tribunal hearing to a courthouse where there is disabled access passes comprehension. Something the new Lord Chancellor should be very angry about, if ever issues like this come to her attention.
And, finally (also from the front line):
Great result by our volunteer Kimberly helping client win
#ESA appeal after DWP awarded 0 points. Tribunal awarded 21 points & Support Group.
#ESA tribunal. Client previously awarded 0 points, changed to 27 at tribunal and placed in support group.
Just what is going on?