People with disabilities are being wrongly denied the financial support they are entitled to, causing hardship, stress and anxiety. That’s the conclusion of a new report from Citizens Advice Exeter.
The leading local advice charity is calling for the Government to tackle the flawed system which determines whether people are eligible as a result of a disability for benefits.
Its research reveals many people in Exeter and across the country are having their applications for personal independence payment (PIP) or employment and support allowance (ESA) rejected, only for the decision to be reversed on appeal many months later.
The report, Appealing for Common Sense, reveals the injustice and wastefulness inherent in the benefit application and appeals process.
Nationally, 65 per cent of initial decisions are overturned in favour of the applicant when the case goes to an independent tribunal. Between October and December 2017, in 22 out of 27 cases where Citizens Advice Exeter supported an applicant with strong grounds for appeal the initial decision was overturned.
Steve Barriball, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Exeter, said: “Anyone trying to get on with life while coping with a serious illness or disability deserves a quick and accurate experience when applying for personal independence payment (PIP) or employment and support allowance (ESA).
“Our investigation has exposed fundamental flaws in the way that eligibility to receive these benefits is being assessed. Many people give up after hearing that their application has been unsuccessful, but we find that where people are willing to endure the long and often distressing appeal process, tribunals are awarding the highest rates possible when the original assessment did not support any entitlement.
“This is simply wrong and the system needs a fundamental overhaul so that decision makers get it right first time and don’t subject those living with serious illness or disability to lengthy and often traumatic delays which risk them getting into financial hardship.”
Citizens Advice Exeter provides free, impartial and confidential advice on a wide range of issues to anyone living or working in Exeter. The charity helped 21,847 clients with 35,713 problems last year. It also campaigns to improve the policies and practices affecting people’s lives.
PIP is currently the single biggest issue people turn to Citizens Advice Exeter for help with, followed by ESA. The charity advised on almost 1,500 problems with PIP and more than 850 ESA-related issues in the past year.
When people apply for PIP or ESA, initial assessments are carried out by private contractors on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Points are awarded based on an applicant’s ability to perform a range of daily living and mobility activities.
The new report highlights the experiences of six people who had their claims turned down but successfully appealed with the support of Citizens Advice Exeter. In five of the six cases, applicants were awarded twice as many points by the independent tribunal panel as they had been in the initial DWP assessment.
They include Ray, a client with multiple physical and mental health conditions, who had been denied PIP after being awarded just two points – compared to 27 when his case was reviewed at a tribunal.
Another client, with paranoid schizophrenia, was awarded zero points at her initial assessment. This was increased to 19 points by the tribunal which ruled she is eligible for PIP.
In two of the six case studies highlighted, medical evidence appears to have been disregarded. In another two, the applicant’s own account was largely ignored. In two more, the applicant’s mental health condition was apparently not understood or acknowledged. And in three instances, disparities between the applicant’s own account at the assessment and that of the assessor were never clarified.
At the end of 2017, Citizens Advice Exeter was supporting 125 people with PIP and ESA appeals. On average each case takes almost six months from appeal to tribunal hearing, during which applicants often experience anxiety, stress and financial difficulties.
Steve finished: “This report highlights an important and growing issue in Exeter, which we believe is just a microcosm of a national injustice. The system is clearly broken and is causing unnecessary hardship and waste.
“It’s vital that Government pays close attention to these issues and takes meaningful action to tackle the ongoing flaws with the process which stop people getting the help they need to live their lives.”