‘Like walking through treacle’ - Vulnerable people waiting months on end for PIP and ESA appeal hearings
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Vulnerable people appealing decisions over disability benefits are being left in limbo for months waiting for their hearings.
The average applicant looking to over-turn decisions on personal independence payments (PIP) and employment support allowances (ESA) faces a wait of more than six months for cases to be resolved - time spent without their benefits.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures say the average waiting time for the first quarter of 2018/19 - between April and June - was 24 weeks for ESA and PIP appellants.
However, anecdotal evidence supplied by the charity Equal Lives suggests some waits have been as long as 40 weeks - 10 months.
And with more appeals successful than not, questions have been asked over the way in which these individuals are assessed to begin with.
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In the same period, 173 out of 221 ESA appeals and 138 of 204 PIP appeals were won, 78pc and 67pc respectively.
Norman Lamb, member of parliament for north Norfolk said the situation was 'intolerable', having raised the issue in commons.
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He said: 'I have experienced a lot of constituents waiting months for an appeal, which puts their life on hold.
'Often these people are appealing against wrong decisions to begin with, which begs the question of why these are being made in the first place.
'The number of appeals that are successful just demonstrates that the decision-making process is flawed.'
Mr Lamb suggested part of the issue was to do with the level of communication between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - which is responsible for the benefits system - and the Ministry of Justice.
He added: 'The DWP and the MoJ need to work together better. I think the MoJ does not necessarily see it as core business for them.
'It seems to be people are being left in the lurch. It often feels like people are being turned down in the hope they will not want to go through the appeal process.'
An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman said: 'We understand that delays can be stressful which is why we have appointed more than 370 medical and disability panel members to speed up the appeals process.
'We continue to appoint more judges and are developing a new digital system to improve processing of benefit appeals.'
'Like walking through a sea of treacle'
A north Norfolk man has told of how an agonising 28-week wait for a PIP appeal hearing left his mental health in tatters and led to the breakdown of his marriage.
The 58-year-old, who wished to be known as Robert, described his experience as 'like trying to walk through a sea of treacle'.
After a car crash in 1993 left him with serious brain injuries, Robert was given disability living allowance for life.
However, when this benefit was replaced with personal independence payment, he experienced difficulties getting through the application process.
Ahead of a tribunal, he was awarded just three points on the assessment scale, which entitled him to no PIP allowance. However, 28-weeks later he was reassessed with 21 points, entitling him to £145 per week.
He said: 'Throughout the waiting period, my mental health was in tatters. Every day was like walking through a sea of treacle above your knees.
'I was losing out on around £600 per month and had to borrow money from family just to survive.'
Robert said the experience had led to him losing all faith in the Department for Work and Pensions, the government department he has depended on for more than 20 years.
He said: 'I had always felt the DWP was caring and a real source of support, but I no longer feel that way.'
A spokesman for the DWP, though, said: 'We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get the full support they need. Assessments work well for the vast majority of people, but one person's poor experience is one too many, and we are committed to continuously improving the process.
'Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.
'Latest figures show that of the seven million ESA and PIP decisions made, 8pc of ESA and 9pc of PEP decisions have been appealed, with 4pc being overturned.
'Where decisions are overturned at appeal, it is often because people have submitted more oral or written evidence.'