in the back
PIP appeals: the cruel truth
Disability benefits, Issue 1456
dwp.jpg A 62-YEAR-OLD man with terminal leukaemia, who was wrongly denied benefits supposed to ease the extra financial burden of living with serious illness and disability, finally had the decision overturned at a tribunal – the month after he had died.

In another case, a 28-year-old woman with a spinal tumour had to be taken to her benefit tribunal by paramedics in an ambulance. Proceedings were immediately halted while the horrified tribunal judge went to tell Kirsty Garnett, outside, that her case was successful.

Universal credit isn’t the only government welfare reform causing extreme distress and hardship. Despite government assurances that those with terminal cancer or other life-shortening diseases would not have to face the ordeal of tick-box assessments for the new personal independence payments (PIP) at the hands of health professionals from Crapita and Atos, that is not the experience of many sufferers.

‘Truly shocking’
Duncan Walker, the welfare advice worker who represented the bereaved family and Ms Garnett, said theirs were but two of more than 30 “truly shocking” cases he has handled in the Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford areas during the past year. In every one, the cancer patient had been told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that following their assessment they were ineligible for any PIP support – only for a tribunal to later award them the highest rates of daily living and mobility support. (Payments can range from £22 to about £140 per week.)

In a third case, Walker, an advice worker for Unite Community, himself witnessed a Crapita health check of a man with stage four lung cancer, and was alarmed by the assessor’s subsequent report. He told the Eye that he had seen the man having to use his bottled oxygen repeatedly – yet the assessor reported “no signs of breathlessness”. The report also said there was no need for a review for another two years – despite the man’s prognosis giving him just months to live.

Walker told the Eye: "These cases are absolutely horrendous and should not be allowed to happen. What is clear is that assessors pay little or no attention to what is written in claim forms, doctors’ notes and other accompanying material. In the worst cases, the process is a dishonest sham.”

Extra misery, stress and financial hardship
Even in cases where doctors have completed a special certificate stating that a patient is likely to have less than six months to live – which is supposed to lead automatically to a fast-track PIP award – the final decision about whether to conduct a medical assessment, by someone who could be a nurse or an occupational therapist by training, is still left to the very companies who profit from carrying them out.

What is also shocking is that that there are no meaningful checks and balances in place at the DWP. It is supposed to carry out “mandatory reassessments”, or reviews, when claimants challenge the refusal of benefit. A freedom of information request in the summer revealed that a key performance indicator for those carrying out the mandatory assessments has set a target to refuse 80 percent – making a mockery of the process.

In Walker’s experience, the reassessments are upholding nearly nine out of ten rejections. No wonder the tribunals are overwhelmed and are overturning nearly two-thirds of DWP decisions. The scandal is the extra misery, stress and financial hardship sick people and their families suffer in the meantime.

More top stories in the latest issue:

A bid to reintroduce predatory wild lynx in Northumbria is in trouble as academic partners and technical advisers pull out over transparency and governance.

A £35m project to help expand credit unions and help those on low income avoid ‘predatory loan sharks’ is faltering and has produced next to nothing.

Announcing an investigation into UK offshore tax law, European commissioner Margrethe Vestager catches up with a scandal highlighted by the Eye seven years ago.

A suicidal detective was free to lead and ultimately wreck the last chance to solve the 1987 axe murder of private detective Daniel Morgan, it has emerged.

The National Trust, guardian of our heritage, sides with a plan to build tunnel portals and a four-lane highway through Stonehenge, a world heritage site.

Manchester Uni’s refusal to back down on making 140 academics redundant, including 40 from its business school, prompts a mass, two-day walk-out.

The effect of privatising management of the UK’s international development fund is painfully clear from its record running Uganda’s monopoly electricity supplier.

Barry Weir, the miserly millionaire who owns park homes in Sussex, is hoping to flog his six sites for ‘offers in excess of £10.5m’.

The clinical psychologist who is defending Wiltshire’s chief constable over his much criticised report on the investigation into the late Sir Edward Heath.

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Private Eye Issue 1455