New benefit assessments damaging the health of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable

More than 85% of people living with a disability or serious long-term health condition had their mental or physical health affected by the stress of being reassessed for benefits, according to a study by Citizens Advice Greater Manchester.

The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013 with anyone claiming the benefit being reassessed before 2018. New eligibility standards mean a quarter of DLA recipients are expected to not qualify for PIP.

The Citizens Advice Greater Manchester study of claimants who have experienced problems with their reassessment found that:

  • 86% of people reported that stress about the reassessment had damaged their physical and or mental health
  • Almost half felt they had been unable to explain on the application form how their disability or health problem affected their daily life
  •  More than a third found the questions during the face-to-face medical examination embarrassing
  • 56% had to see their GP for help in dealing with the reassessment
  • 60% of participants said that despite being previously been awarded DLA indefinitely on the assumption that their condition would not improve, they would now face regularly reassessments
  • There were extensive problems with delays in the system, failures to backdate any awards and the sensitivity and accuracy of face-to-face assessments

Almost 60% of those surveyed had either lost or seen a reduction in the care component of their benefits since moving to PIP, and almost 70% had lost or reduced Motability part of their benefit since the switch.

Around a quarter of participants had undergone a mandatory reconsideration – an internal review of the initial decision – after having benefits cut following the reassessment; and 29% had lodged, or already lost, an appeal against a PIP decision. 

More than half of those who had lost benefit payments following the reassessment were planning to cut back on heating and fuel payments and more than a third expected to get into more debt.

The study showed that the process is inappropriately designed and causes further damage to the health of the very people it should be helping.

Citizens Advice across England reported over 125,000 PIP-related enquiries to its local Citizens Advice offices in the 12 months up to April 2016 – an increase of 36% over the previous 12 months.

The concerns about the medical reassessment process have prompted an inquiry by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee into the PIP assessment process.

Citizens Advice Greater Manchester was created in 2016 following a partnership agreement between local Citizens Advice services working in communities across the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs.

The organisation is calling for a shake-up of the current system to PIP assessment process with easier to understand application forms, realistic timescales to speed up the decision-making process and scrapping reassessments for people with long-term conditions which are not going to improve. It also calls for financial penalties for assessors such as Capita and ATOS for each case overturned at appeal in order to improve standard and consistency of assessments.

Alison Haynes, Chair of the Citizens Advice Greater Manchester Strategic Board, said: “It is extraordinary that a benefit intended specifically for people with long-term health problems should be so inappropriately designed that it causes further damage to their health and wellbeing.

“It is deeply worrying that, for these clients, both the outcomes of the reassessment and their experience of the reassessment process had led to damaging impacts on their health and, sometimes on the health and wellbeing of other family members as well.”

Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue MP has backed Citizens Advice Greater Manchester’s campaign saying: "It is clear from the amount of constituents who have approached me that PIP assessments are failing the most vulnerable and are not fit for purpose. I hope that the Government look at the experience of claimants throughout Greater Manchester and change the system for the better".

Anyone needing advice relating to PIP reassessment is advised to call the Greater Manchester Adviceline on 03444 111 222.

Case Study:

Eileen Knight, 80, has dedicated her life to caring for her son Trevor.

Trevor, now 53, has had severe learning difficulties since birth. He cannot read or write and relies on the support of his mum for many day-to-day activities, such as getting dressed and washing. He also has a number of physical health issues linked to his condition.  

The pair live at home together in Wigan, and have seen first-hand the impact that Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments can have on families.

Trevor, who went to a school for children with learning disabilities and has never been able to work, had claimed Disability Living Allowance care and mobility, before being sent for an assessment ahead of his switch to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Eileen also claimed Carers Allowance for looking after Trevor.

Amazingly, Trevor’s PIP assessment results, which were delivered in September 2016, found that he did not have any care or mobility needs. The results meant that Trevor and his mother would lose their benefit entitlements.

Trevor was deemed to have scored 0 points in both the Daily Living and Mobility tests of the PIP assessment, based on the Department of Work and Pension’s points system, which measures a person’s ability to carry out certain tasks. 

For both the Daily Living and Mobility components of PIP, a person needs to score at least 8 points to quality for the standard rate of benefit, with anyone scoring 12 points or above eligible for the enhanced rate.

“It was heart-breaking,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Trevor had scored 0 points. How they could even think he is able to look after himself I’ll never know. He is so reliant on me for everything.

“I’m 80-years-old. How was I supposed to support us?

“The tests were so cruel. I felt like the assessor was very aggressive with us. It was not a fair process and it was very hard to explain that Trevor was not able to do a lot of things.”

Furious and frustrated, Eileen turned to Citizens Advice for support.

Citizens Advice’s team picked up the case and assisted with Trevor’s appeal, which led to a tribunal earlier this year. 

The tribunal found in Trevor’s favour awarding him the enhanced level of Daily Living allowance (13 points) and standard Mobility allowance (8 points). He was awarded more than £3,500 in backdated payments.

Eileen added: “I almost gave up a few times, but my friends kept telling me to fight on.

“The team at Citizens Advice were amazing. They made sure we got the payment back. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

Eileen says that she believes there will be hundreds of families across Greater Manchester in similar circumstances and has urged them to contact Citizens Advice for support.

“My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to speak to Citizens Advice and get some professional support. They really stood up for me and my son, and I will be forever thankful.”