Hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk and Suffolk wrongly stripped of Personal Independence Payments
PUBLISHED: 08:07 18 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:19 21 July 2017
Archant Norfolk 2017
Hundreds of disabled people in the region have successfully overturned decisions to strip them of their benefits on appeal - in a sign the Government’s key disability welfare reforms are broken, campaigners say.
Figures obtained by this newspaper show around two thirds of appeals against decisions to take Personal Independence Payments (PIP) away from claimants are successful in the region.
PIP was introduced by the Government in 2013 to slash the welfare bill.
But last year 442 people in the NR postcode appealed decisions to reduce or take PIP away and 60pc were successful at tribunals.
In the PE postcode of West Norfolk and North Cambridgeshire almost 70pc of the 742 claimants who appealed were successful.
And in the IP postcode of Suffolk 184 of the 306 people who appealed in 2016/17 got their money back.
“It shows it is a broken system,” said Mark Harrison from disability campaign group Equal Lives. “The assessments are not fit for purpose. If you had that level of failure in the judiciary system, the courts would be completely discredited and the minister responsible asked to resign.”
Ros Brown, from the Norfolk Community Law Service, meanwhile, said they had seen a “substantial increase” in the number of PIP appeals this year.
Jonathan Toye, from charity West Norfolk Disability Information Service, said they were winning about 90pc of PIP appeal cases and have had around 50 appeals since January.
He described Capita, who carry out PIP assessments in West Norfolk, as a “waste of space” and claimed many assessor reports were of poor quality and inaccurate.
Ian Bailey, from Wisbech, successfully appealed last week against an appeal to halve his PIP.
The 63-year-old grandfather received Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from 2012 after two hip replacements and arthritis in his spine left him unable to work as a driving instructor.
But in December he was reassessed for PIP, worth £450 a month to him. He was told he now only qualified for smaller amount of £220 a month.
He appealed but had to wait seven months for the case to get to a tribunal panel in King’s Lynn.
Mr Bailey highlighted several parts of the Capita assessor’s report which were wrong, including a claim he was “observed to walk approximately 100 metres”.
“I can walk about 15 metres,” Mr Bailey said.
In March a group of MPs on a Work and Pensions committee heard evidence that PIP assessments done by contractors Capita and Atos Healthcare were of poor quality.
John Evans, 65, from Stowbridge in West Norfolk who successfully overturned a decision to take his PIP away, said: “PIP is a complete shambles.
“It’s quite clear from my experience that the process of employing outsides companies using semi-trained paramedicals to assess PIP claims doesn’t work.”
Richard Green, 53, from Bowthorpe Care Village, who was given a life award for mobility benefit in 1996 after surgery to remove a cancerous tumour, had his PIP benefit slashed after an assessor claimed he could walk 20 metres.
He can only travel two metres using a frame but his mobility scooter was taken away.
The family appealed earlier this year and won. Mr Green’s daughter Alyshia Birch-Green said the panel only took around ten minutes to reinstate the money.
“They said my dad should’ve been assessed by a medical expert. It was really stressful for him. It has affected his mental health. He was struggling to pay his rent.”
•‘You are constantly worrying’
Rebecca Parish was on disability living allowance for ten years until August last year when she was told to apply for PIP by the DWP.
The mother-of-three from north Norwich has epilepsy and hip dysplasia.
She went to an assessment centre on Prince of Wales Road last autumn but didn’t get enough points to qualify for PIP.
It meant she lost the £308 a month she received from the DWP but also no longer qualified for housing benefit of £49 a week or council tax benefit of £40 a month.
The 27-year-old said her GP gave evidence of her conditions. “It was like they disregarded everything I sent them,” Mrs Parish said.
She is now looking to appeal the decision.
She said while waiting for the decision she was “constantly worrying”. “It took a toll,” she added.
An advert for Capita PIP assessors earning up to £38,000 a year says: “This is your chance to help ensure that benefits are targeted towards those most in need and to help them lead full, active and independent lives.”
But PIP has been in the headlines for the controversial way it has assessed disabled people.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last year claimed Capita workers can get as much as £20,000 a month by completing as many assessments as possible.
One worker claimed he sometimes completed assessment forms before even meeting claimants.
And claimants we have spoken to have complained about the poor quality of assessment reports.
A DWP spokesman said: “All Health Professionals are subject to on-going quality audit to ensure they continue to deliver high quality assessments.”
•What does the DWP say?
A DWP spokesman said PIP decisions were made “after considering all the information provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist”.
“Since PIP was introduced, there have been more than 2.4 million decisions, of these 8pc have been appealed and 3pc have been overturned,” they said.
“Where a decision has been overturned it has often been because the claimant provided further evidence.”
A Capita spokesman said assessment reports went through a “robust audit” by themselves and the DWP to “assure quality”.
“Our assessors are fully qualified and registered healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high quality and accurate reports, in line with Department for Work and Pensions guidance,” they said.
A spokesperson for Atos Healthcare, which was rebranded to Independent Assessment Services in June, said: “We are absolutely committed to providing every claimant at each stage with a professional and compassionate service.
“We aim to carry out every assessment in line with the criteria as laid out by the Department for Work and Pensions to whom we are also committed to deliver a consistently reliable and high quality contract.”
•What is PIP?
Personal Independence Payments replaced Disability Living Allowance from 2013 and are given to people with disabilities, illnesses and mental health conditions.
They are a key plank of the Government’s welfare reforms.
By introducing PIP, the government tightened the criteria for who could get the benefits and hoped to save £1.3bn a year by 2020.
But it is a long way behind its savings target.
The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in 2014 that Government spending on disability benefits would be £55.9bn from 2015 to 2019. But last year it revised that figure up by £10.5bn.
Claimants can get between £22 and £141.10 from the DWP a week depending on how badly they are affected.
Depending on where in the country they live, they are either assessed by Atos Healthcare or Capita. Atos has now rebranded to Independent Assessment Services.
Capita earned £14.3m in the first four months of this year from the DWP for doing the assessments.
Atos, which covers a wider area, including all of Suffolk and part of Norfolk, was paid £47.6m.
•Contact Equal Lives for help with PIP appeals at email@example.com
•Have you successfully appealed a PIP decision? Contact Tom Bristow on 01603 772834 or email firstname.lastname@example.org