Review finds disability assessments ‘not fit for purpose’

More than two-thirds of appealed decisions in Stoke-on-Trent are overturned

More than two-thirds of appealed decisions in Stoke-on-Trent are overturned

A review has found that disability benefit assessments in Stoke-on-Trent are ‘not fit for purpose’ – with two-thirds of appealed decisions being overturned.

Around 8,000 people in Stoke-on-Trent are currently receiving Personal Independence Payments, which are meant to cover living and transport costs incurred due to disability.

But claimants have told councillors that they are being unfairly denied payments due to a range of problems with the assessment process.

In Stoke-on-Trent 28.6 per cent of reassessed claims and 56.7 per cent of new claims for PIP are turned down – with both figures higher than the national average.

But when claimants in the city appeal against these decisions, they are successful 67 per cent of the time at tribunal.

Around 14,000 people are being migrated from the old Disability Living Allowance to PIP, with this process expected to be completed next year.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council invited claimants to give evidence for a task and finish review, due to growing concerns about the assessments.

Examples of problems include:

an assessor saying claimant could walk 200 metres, when they actually said 20 metres;
as assessor saying claimant could wash and dress herself unaided and manage her own treatment, when she could not do any of these things unaided;
claimants with mental health problems being asked insensitive questions about suicide;
and a claimant’s inability to stand on tiptoes, despite several attempts, not being mentioned in the assessor’s report.
Claimants told the review they believed the assessment process was designed to put people off making a claim.

One witness said: “Not found this a supportive process at all and believe it to be ‘punitive’ rather than ‘supportive’. The system is there to put you off and I think they want people to stop once they are refused on application.

“I feel that they are saying that I am lying.”

Another claimant said: “The assessment report is fatally flawed in that it contains misinformation, missing information and a lack of a basic grasp of the medical condition, and therefore any reasonable understanding of how the conditions impact on daily living.”

Personal Independence Payments cover living and transport costs (Image: Getty)
In Stoke-on-Trent the PIP assessments are carried out by outsourcing giant Capita on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Capita employs ‘health professionals’ to carry out face-to-face assessments and produce a report, which the DWP uses to make a decision.

The review heard that even when PIPs are awarded, claimants sometimes have to go through a reassessment within months, meaning it becomes a continual process.

One witness said that the stress caused by this process had resulted in them suffering more epileptic seizures.

The review’s final report concludes that the assessment process is ‘too long, too distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose’. It says that the rate at which decisions are overturned is ‘significantly high’, and that the questions asked by assessors are ‘subjective and open to interpretation’.

Councillor Joan Bell, who chaired the review, said: “It was really quite distressing to hear this evidence. You could tell just by looking at them that they definitely had a need for support, but they still had to go through these traumatic tribunals.

“In one of the interviews I sat in on both the claimant and his partner were in tears.

“In the assessments one of the questions people are asked is whether they have thought about committing suicide, and if so, why they hadn’t. It’s shocking how callous the assessments can be.

“With some cases, the report that is sent to the DWP is simply not factual. One lady had to use a wheelchair, and she had all sorts of illnesses. Her report said she was able to prepare meals, when it was obvious that she couldn’t.

“The assessments are just not fit for purpose. You can’t help but ask whether it’s meant to put people off making claims.”

The review also heard evidence from organisations such as Disability Solutions, which provides support to claimants, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the DWP.

Around 8,000 people are receiving PIPs in Stoke-on-Trent (Image: Getty)
Simon Harris, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent CAB, below, said his organisation had assisted a lot of people affected by the change to PIP.

He said: “We have long had concerns about the move from DLA to PIP and it was clear from the very outset that a lot of people would not move over because the benefits are different – even if they are meant to be the same.

“We have a lot of people coming to see us about PIP because they have concerns about how they show the DWP their disability. We have seen people quite mystified by the decisions from the assessors.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including calling on the DWP to liaise with local support agencies to ensure the assessment process runs more smoothly.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “We introduced PIP to replace the outdated DLA system. Under PIP 26 per cent of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA.

“Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

“Since PIP was introduced, more than 2.4 million decisions have been made, and of these 8 per cent have been appealed and 3 per cent have been overturned. In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more oral or written evidence.

“We constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible and, to date, there have been two independent reviews of PIP.”

The partner of a man who died while waiting for his PIP appeal to be heard has welcomed the council review’s findings.

Carol Acton, from Bentilee, whose partner Geoffrey Elwell died while fighting for disability benefits
Geoffrey Elwell who suffered with limb, back and respiratory problems, was denied PIP despite previously receiving disability living allowance. The 68-year-old, of Bentilee, inset, died of cancer on June 21 – two days before a tribunal awarded him the higher rate of PIP.

His partner Carol Acton, above, agrees with councillors that the current system is not fit for purpose.

Carol, aged 76, of Paisley Close, Bentilee, above, said: “There are calls to get assessments recorded, so everyone knows exactly what has been said. They’re trying to get that through Parliament. At the moment, you’ll say something in the assessment but it won’t be included in the report, and then it will just be your word against theirs.”

Source: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/stoke-on-trent-news/review-finds-disability-assessments-not-460016

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