Over 1.6 million disability claims are going to be reviewed over the next few years and the cost to the government is estimated at £3.7 billion. It’s a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money that could have been put to good use if properly allocated in the first place. However, as the transition from DLA to PIP meant reassessment and stripped away many British people’s disability benefits, it can only be a positive thing that cases are going to be reviewed. Hundreds of thousands of appeals have already been made and many people have won back their PIP.
It’s not easy to regain the benefits you’re eligible for and it may feel like the odds are stacked against you, but it is possible.
Donna Pickett has a host of health problems including PTSD, borderline personality disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis, and lost her PIP last year. Her request to have the assessment at her home due to her mobility issues was initially denied, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) eventually came to her home. Her PIP assessment came at a particularly stressful time as she was being assessed for suicide risk, but none of this made it onto her case notes.
“I suggest to anyone having an assessment that you have someone to back up what you’re saying because my assessor didn’t writing anything down about my mental health issues,” says Donna.
After her negative experience, Donna offers to take notes at other people’s assessments as she doesn’t want anyone to go through the same ordeal. “If you sign a form, you can also record the assessment,” she says, although she notes that the staff don’t encourage it. Top tip: most smart phones have a recording device on them – all you have to do is press a button.
Donna’s report came back saying she had lost her PIP, but it was full of inaccuracies of what was said and what happened during the brief assessment. She went to the local council, where she was interviewed, and they suggested an appeal.
If you think you’ve lost your PIP unfairly, ask the DWP to take a second look at your assessment decision by requesting a mandatory reconsideration. “You have one month from when the decision was made to do this, but certain cases may be given 13 months in some circumstances,” says Carlos Hagi, welfare benefit expert at
Like with all things, it pays to be prepared. The case notes and papers that Donna gave the government in the lead up to her appeal were lost several times, so make sure that you have back-ups. Donna says that the DWP expect a high level of drop-outs due to the distressing and time-consuming nature of making an appeal, so be persistent.
“It’s best to put your mandatory reconsideration in writing so you can explain in detail why you disagree with the assessment decision,” says Carlos. Include supporting evidence, such as practical examples, medical records and supporting letters from health professionals. Submit this evidence separately if it’s not immediately available – and remember to keep copies.A reconsideration involves a hearing, which you can prepare for by writing brief notes which you can refer to, or practicing questions in advance. In particular, think about how your disability affects your ability to carry out daily tasks and get around.
“At the hearing, the panel – which includes a judge and doctor – will be looking to better understand how your disability affects your day-to-day life and mobility,” says Carlos, so expect to be asked a series of questions and be open and clear with your explanations.
If your mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful, that’s not the end of the line: you can make an appeal by going to tribunal, which is what happened to Donna. First, fill in the appeal form on the Government website which needs to arrive at the HM Courts and Tribunals Service within one month of the date printed on your mandatory reconsideration notice. Again, in certain cases it may be possible to extend this up to 13 months.
The appeal itself can be hard-going emotionally. “Discussing your personal issues in front of people that you feel are there to judge you and not support you is difficult,” recalls Donna. “We’re not geared to open ourselves to scrutiny about our weaknesses. I cried the entire time and I know others who have as well.”
Making an appeal can be hugely stressful. Donna couldn’t sleep for two weeks before her assessment or appeal, and was a week away from being made homeless. She had been unable to work and pay her bills during the six months without PIP and had been taken to court by her landlord for not paying her rent. While she was back paid for the benefits she missed out on, the stress has taken its toll.
“My advice is to make sure you don’t do it alone,” says Donna. “Right from the start, don’t wait until you get to the assessment and let the DWP dictate your disability. You know better than anyone, so make sure you state what your worst day is. Don’t gloss over your concerns about yourself. There are fantastic DWP staff, but they have to follow what is pushed down from the top.”
You can attend the appeal by yourself, or can ask a Citizens Advice adviser (or a representative from another advice agency), friend or family member to accompany you. If you prefer, they can even speak on your behalf. You should mention this on your appeal form, but don’t worry, you can also request permission from the tribunal panel on the day of your appeal if you make a last-minute decision.
Donna advises against going into your appeal without support, and to be aware of how emotional it can be. “If a disabled person doesn’t have mental health issues before going through an appeal, they may do afterwards,” she notes.
The panel will inform you of its decision as soon as it can, and you will also receive confirmation in the post. If you win your appeal, the DWP will automatically backdate the tribunal’s decision to the date of your original assessment decision, so you will get all the money owed. If you lose your appeal you will unfortnately only be able to challenge the decision if the tribunal panel made an error of law.
Words by Laura Hamilton