Eimear Twomey, Caseworker
Having come from a background in frontline support work before starting with Z2K in July, I was already aware of the systematic challenges faced by claimants claiming sickness and disability benefits and the inaccuracies of the DWP’s assessment process. Notwithstanding this, it is still shocking to see the volume of cases we take on at Z2K of people whose health conditions have been completely overlooked at their assessments.
One of my own first cases has been helping “Hannah”. She and her mother had approached Z2K for support with appealing a benefit decision when Hannah was awarded 0 points in her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment. Prior to this, Hannah had been in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) since the age of six. As required, when she turned eighteen she had to transition from DLA by assessment to PIP.
Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes since the age of six, Hannah had also developed Retinopathy a condition related to her diabetes that affected her eyesight. Coinciding with these, Hannah was diagnosed with depression and was a patient under a psychiatric team for the past two years. Medical evidence provided to us that was also submitted with her initial claim for PIP detailed the extent of Hannah’s condition and her battle with managing depression.
Notes form psychiatry sessions outline numerous disclosures of self-harm, suicidal ideation and difficulty with managing day-to-day activities. Furthermore, medical notes from the diabetic team included real concern over Hannah’s reluctance to comply with diabetic treatment which was linked to her ill mental health. Hannah’s mother is her carer and legal appointee. In her initial questionnaire, Hannah clearly stated the level of support she requires from her mother with managing her diabetes. This was affirmed in medical letters which mentioned the need for family to monitor her condition. Despite the extent of medical evidence and Hannah’s own admissions during her face-to-face assessment, she was awarded 0 points in the health care professional’s report. Following this decision her DLA benefit was stopped.
Besides the loss of income for expenses such as travel to medical appointments and dietary needs probably the biggest impact was that Hannah could no longer afford to pay for a glucometer that automatically monitored her glucose levels, a task she avoided doing. At a cost over £90 per month it was too much for her family to afford to purchase despite recommendations from the diabetic team.
With our representation at her Tribunal this week, Hannah’s appeal was allowed. She was awarded enhanced rate in the daily living component with reassessment after three years. The effect of this decision means that not only can Hannah start to use the glucometer again, she can also consider going in to further education in the knowledge that as a recipient of PIP she will be able to access learning support.
In the advice sector, it is almost accepted now that the Mandatory Reconsideration stage won’t change a negative decision and it will have to go to Tribunal. This defunct process is unnecessarily costing the public money. Recent stats published show the DWP alone spent £39 million defending decisions at tribunals in 2016. However, 66 per cent of PIP appeals alone were allowed in 2016. These figures highlight the growing disparity between the Government’s savings-driven agenda for welfare reform and cost of defending bad decisions.
Despite clear evidence the assessment process is failing, DWP refuses to make the changes that are needed, and so I’m really pleased to be part of a team offering such vital representation for those vulnerable clients appealing these terrible decisions.