A Tale of Two Assessments

Anne Killeen, Senior Caseworker at Z2K, shows how two assessments can lead to very different outcomes.

Normally in Z2K blogs we focus on cases when things have gone either extremely well for a client or extremely wrong for a client.  However, in this blog I will focus on how two medical assessments by the Department of Work and Pensions produced two opposite decisions. One led to the client having to go to appeal to obtain Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) while the other led to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) being awarded immediately.

I understand the requirements are different for the two benefits – ESA is about your ability to function in a work environment while PIP is about the impact the disability has on your daily life – but often the need for one suggests a need for the other.

Jack attended one of our outreach sessions in the south of the borough of Westminster in May 2017. He had approached the service, which also has a foodbank, after accessing his GP to request a foodbank voucher.

His GP was later to say that when Jack approached him he was in a state of starvation.

I have worked in the advice sector for many years and this is one of the worst cases I have encountered. It’s hard to believe that someone with this level vulnerability could get to the stage of starvation whilst living in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London. What could have been a tragic event was only averted by building a relationship of trust over a period of time to allow intervention.

Jack completed his ESA form himself; this must have caused him great distress and taken days to complete. He attended the medical assessment and was awarded 0 points. Jack said the Healthcare Professional would not listen to his answers and the report did not reflect what he said. This assessment had a profound effect on him. A mandatory reconsideration was requested and the decision was upheld. An appeal was lodged by someone Jack met at the launderette which he used to sit in – credit has to go to this person who intervened on his behalf to lodge the out-of-time appeal.

At the initial approach to our service in May 2017 to get a foodbank voucher we advised Jack to apply for Personal Independent Payment, and when the form was received he was assisted under the Z2k form filling service. We would like to offer this service more often – however, we frequently have to use our resources to challenge negative decisions. At this appointment it was discovered Jack was not receiving ESA pending appeal which he was entitled to at the point the appeal was lodged. To remedy this it involved going to his GP to obtain duplicate sick notes and going to the Job Centre to get the sick notes and confirmation of appeal scanned to the DWP quickly. Jack has said he would not approach the Job Centre again as when he tried before he felt the staff laughed at him. My own experience of attending the Job Centre to advocate on his behalf was not pleasant, in fact it was somewhat hostile. Eventually at the end of August Jack received his ESA pending appeal.

He had had no income from February 2017 apart from foodbank vouchers and a small amount of money from a relief from poverty fund.

Jack had decided he could not face going to another medical assessment for his PIP. I agreed to attend with Jack and on a few occasions had to intervene in the assessment in order that Jack was given the opportunity to respond to questions in his own time. Post assessment Jack had mentioned that this was a very different experience to his ESA assessments. The outcome of the PIP application was enhanced daily living and enhanced mobility. I could be cynical and say that the award was made because we assisted in completing the form or attending the assessment with him, however, I believe it was made because Jack’s health conditions warranted the award.

Submissions for his ESA appeal were submitted and directions were made by HMCTS (the courts and tribunals service) for Jack’s medical records to be provided. On receipt of the medical records the tribunal made reasonable adjustments and listed it for hearing without the need for Jack to attend. At the tribunal, Jack was placed in the support group with a recommendation that “in view of the degree of disability found by the tribunal and unless the regulations change, the tribunal would recommend that the appellant is not re-assessed.”

 Having been awarded 0 points at the initial assessment, Jack was awarded 42 at tribunal. This clearly shows he should have been awarded ESA at the first assessment stage, as he was with PIP.

 Whilst Jack’s benefit issues have been resolved I fear that in a few years’ time the same cycle will occur again. Hopefully Jack will access Z2K services again if the need arises. In the meantime I will be liaising with other services to make sure Jack has access to the immediate support he needs.

The Work Capability Assessment isn’t working

Yesterday the pressure continued to mount on the governments increasingly discredited Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The Work and Pensions Select Committee began their inquiry into the WCA with their first evidence session with Joanna Kennedy, Chief Executive of Z2K, and witnesses from Mind, Scope, Citizens Advice and Parkinson’s UK all united in their damning evidence on the broken WCA system. You can watch the evidence session above and read the transcript here. Continue reading

Housebound client denied benefits

ESA-formIf I were run over by a car, contracted MRSA following hospital treatment which left me with both legs in braces and had no prospect of ever being able to walk again, I would hope that my employer would understand that I could no longer come in to work. I would hope that the people administering the welfare payments I had become entitled to as a result of my injuries would understand my limitations. And I would hope, particularly, that in cases such as mine, they would be able to arrange a home visit to assess my disability needs. Continue reading

Our client fell into a coma after being declared fit to work

Just a few weeks after the Paralympics closing ceremony the idea that Atos was allowed to sponsor a celebration of the enormous achievements of disabled athletes still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Atos has a lucrative contract with the Department of Work Pensions to carry out Work Capability Assessments, which are used to decide whether an individual is fit for work immediately, in the medium term or not at all. We are consistently approached by clients who have been wrongly assessed as fit to work, even when they are suffering from serious debilitating illnesses

One such example is Mr Y. Mr Y came to see us having had an assessment with Atos where he gained only 6 points and was declared fit to work, despite having a complex combination of serious illnesses. When we spoke to him and examined his medical documents it was quickly apparent that he was in no state to work and thus had a good case to mount an appeal.

We lodged the appeal immediately in order to have his Employment and Support Allowance reinstated as soon as possible. However the very next day Mr Y’s sister called us to say he had been rushed to hospital with complications arising from illnesses. At the hospital he fell into a coma, where he remained for 6 weeks. This shocking news strengthened our resolve to fight as hard as we could to have his benefits reinstated, so that he wouldn’t wake from his coma to find himself in debt.

After much hard work, submitting detailed evidence and arguing DWP decided to reinstate his benefits and reverse their original decision to find him fit for work. Even though we managed to secure a good outcome for our client in the end this raises serious questions about Atos’s assessment procedure. If such a seriously ill man can be declared fit to work then surely there must be something fundamentally wrong with the system?