A woman from Bicester who has multiple sclerosis has spoken out about her nine-month fight to keep her full disability benefits.
Gill Willis, 61, uses a mobility scooter and a zimmer frame to get around after being diagnosed with the condition in 1990.
She has been receiving disability living allowance (DLA) but was reassessed last year after she was moved onto personal independence payment (PIP) which has replaced DLA.
But following her assessment, her payment was downgraded. She said: “The assessor deduced from me picking up my handbag to get my prescription list out that I must be able to prepare and cook food. How can picking up a handbag equate to holding a knife? She took too much from what she thought she could see. If she’d asked me to go into the kitchen and cut an onion she would’ve seen I wouldn’t have been able to. I missed out on the full rate by one point.”
Mrs Willis challenged the decision at a tribunal in April. The full rate was reinstated when she told them she needed her husband’s help to take medication.
“I’ve had MS for 30 years and I’m still learning. How can an assessor come in and think she knows everything? She didn’t appreciate how unpredictable MS can be – how you can be perfectly capable one day and perfectly incapable another. The process needs to be changed so that assessors have a proper understanding of MS.”
New figures from a Freedom of Information request made by the MS Society have revealed that since the PIP was introduced in 2013 nearly one in three people, around 2,600, have had their payments downgraded from the highest rate mobility component of DLA or stopped following reassessment.
Using the FOI figures, the MS Society has calculated a loss of at least £4,867,200 a year from all those receiving the highest rate of mobility and £1,141,920 a year from those on the highest rate of care.
A department for works and pensions spokesman said: “Under PIP 36 per cent more MS claimants receive the highest rate of support than under DLA. We recognise symptoms of MS can fluctuate over time, and regular reassessments mean we can ensure people with degenerative conditions get the help they need as their condition changes. Assessments consider illnesses which affect sufferers during the majority of days in a year, rather than just on someone’s ‘best days’ or assessing ability on a single day.”
He added assessments for PIP were carried out by qualified health professionals who have broad training in assessing the impacts of a variety of disabilities, including MS.