‘The problem is I don’t look sick’ - disabled people describe fight to get benefit cash
- Credit: Robyn Dagless
Hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk and Suffolk have been wrongly stripped of their benefits. What's it like to go through the process? Three people share their stories.
When Robyn Dagless was told in August last year she would have to apply for a disability benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP), she was not expecting to still be waiting almost a year later.
The 25-year old from Watton went to the PIP assessment centre on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich in September last year to decide whether she was eligible for the benefit - and like hundreds of others was told she wasn't. She appealed.
Figures obtained by this newspaper show around two thirds of all appeals against PIP in the region were successful last year.
It means hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk and Suffolk have been wrongly stripped of support and have then had to wait months to get that money of between £22 and £141 a week.
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Ms Dagless' assessor told her she had normal mobility, despite being diagnosed with a rare condition called hypermobility Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which means her joints are unstable and cause her pain.
She has also been diagnosed with fibromyalia syndrome, a long term condition causing pain, as well as borderline personality disorder.
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Her appeal was meant to go to a tribunal hearing but that was then adjourned for further medical evidence.
She presented more than 200 pages of evidence and on Monday she was finally told she had been awarded PIP.
She found out on Monday she would now get PIP without the need for a tribunal hearing.
'The problem is I don't look sick. I am also young,' she said. 'My illness meant I had to stop work in 2015 and since then I had no end of trouble getting help from the GPs I had seen.
'I feel people should know the horrors that go on once you become too sick to work. I was a normal healthy(ish) person before 2015 so I've lived as a working person and I can honestly say I was so shocked to live the process of not being believed on medical evidence but instead on how I look.
'In my assessment, I was assessed by a nurse who hadn't heard of my condition at all, yet still counteracted all of what I said and the evidence.'
While waiting for PIP she has relied on her mum and Employment Support Allowance of just under £600 a month for both her and her partner to live off.
•'I'll lose care without PIP'
Ashley Peart from Toft Monks, Beccles, has lived off Disability Living Allowance of £420 a month since he was 18.
The 31-year-old, who has learning difficulties and lives alone, also uses the money to pay for a daily carer.
But his family fears this is all now at risk after he had a PIP assessment in Great Yarmouth last month.
They are waiting for the result of the assessment but put in a complaint immediately after it.
Mr Peart's mum Karen said the assessor did not seem to grasp the extent of her son's learning difficulties.
And his brother Jason, who lives in London, said: 'If Ashley does not receive the appropriate support he is at risk of social isolation and neglect.' This was backed up by a psychological report completed on June 30 for Ashley.
Mr Peart also has mobility problems from a motorcycle accident in 2005.
His brother added: 'The likelihood is he will be refused and we will have to appeal which will mean that the care he pays for to enable him to live in his own home will be stopped.'
•'I won PIP appeal but have to do it again'
James Fisk from Brundall is now going through his second PIP assessment - despite winning an appeal to be awarded it two years ago.
The 49-year old from Brundall successfully appealed a decision to deny him payments of £80 a week in 2015.
But he has been called back for another assessment.
'I'm going through exactly the same process again,' he said.
He was assessed on July 12 and is waiting for result. In the meantime the £80 a week he received through PIP stopped on July 6.
He has complained to the DWP, stating: 'As you will be aware from the evidence which I have supplied to you previously, my disabilities of Dyslexia/Dyspraxia and Asperger syndrome are lifelong conditions and will not improve or go away.
'I still have pain in my left hip regularly and most days I wake up with a sore back which feels locked for several hours.
'All of these issues were established by the tribunal to entitle me to PIP.'
When it replaced Disability Living Allowance in 2013, PIP aimed to shave £1.3 billion from the welfare bill by 2020 by carrying out tests on those claiming benefits.
The then Work and Pensions Secretary responsible for the changes, Iain Duncan Smith, described the previous system as 'ridiculous' with people getting benefits without being assessed.
But things have not gone to plan.
The government said it wanted PIP to go to those in the most need, but it has not saved as much money as hoped, despite the stringent tests.
One reason for this is the high percentage of successful appeals against decisions to deny claimants PIP which campaigners say show the system is not working.
In response the DWP says PIP decisions are made 'after considering all the information provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist'.
'Where a decision has been overturned it has often been because the claimant provided further evidence.'