Written evidence from Barriers to Disabled people applying and accessing PIP, DLA for Children & ESA/UC LCW assessments Caroline Gale (HAB0042)

Due to time limitations, I have bullet point my main areas of concern. I write my evidence as both the mother of two children one with neuro and physical disabilities and one with severe mental health issues with personal experience of the application process for PIP and Child DLA. I also write this evidence as a fully qualified welfare benefits adviser who specialises in disability benefit applications with some 20+ years of experience. I would also advise from professional and personal experience the severe hardship and deterioration in applicants physical and mental wellbeing caused as a direct result of the current assessment regime and the current lack of acknowledgement the role delays in processing applications plus incorrectly ending of disability benefit awards plays in the deterioration of the customers health and in extreme cases resulting in premature death.

I submit and dedicate this submission on behalf of George.  George was an ESA claimant and an EU national. He had multiple Physical and mental health disabilities. In 2017 he was found fit for work after a 20 minute face to face healthcare assessment. He walked with crutches after multiple strokes and being involved in an RTA leaving him without any teeth weakness in his left side and speech impediment. His cognitive abilities were also affected. Anyone who met George could visibly see this gentleman was not fit for work and most likely never would be. You did not have to be medically qualified to arrive at this assessment of his health and ability to work. The language barriers and mental health issues meant George struggled to navigate the Mandatory reconsideration process to challenge the decision to end his benefit. This led to a 12-18 month period in which he had no money to eat or heat his property. He survived by visiting his local Salvation Army 3 times a week.

George’s situation was further complicated by the enormous complexity of the EUSS scheme and Universal Credit’s digital application process which George was moved onto. George could barely use a basic telephone had no digital skills and struggled to pass DWP security questions.

Unable to pay his rent due to his benefits stopping he became at risk of eviction. Feeling he has nothing left to live for if he lost his home George threatened to hang himself. (George had been previously homeless before and advised me he would rather die than end up on the streets again).

It was at this point in his story I met George. I assisted in resecuring his benefits preventing eviction and ensuring George had the available funds to sustain his tenancy and his life. However, 18 months of no income sleeping on a dirty quilt and mattress with no money for food with the cold snowy winter of 2017/18 – the beast from the east had taken its toil on George physically and mentally. He would sit in the dark in his flat for days on end with the curtains closed. He became agoraphobic and found it difficult to leave his flat terrified he would become homeless again. No amount of reassurance from me could remove this trauma for George. He would often say to me that he had many worries in his head and that he was afraid. George suffered more strokes and TIAs. His body was left even more weak from the months of being malnourished and deprived of regular nourishment. This week as I write this submission George passed away. The removal of George’s benefits for all that time, the stress and complexity of the EUSS system may not have been the primary cause of George’s death but I have no doubt in my mind it certainly played a significant contributory factor in the premature loss of his life. George isn’t here to tell his story. But I feel very strongly it needs to be heard so please do not let his death been in vain. George’s story could be any one of the customers I have supported over the last 20 years. I hope you will read this and take on board all the points raised. RIP George I hope your story makes a difference to others so that they won’t share your experience of the benefits system.



Areas of concern and improvement with the application and healthcare process for DWP disability benefits (DLA Child/PIP & ESA)

1)      Separate application routeway for customers with mental health, learning and neuro disabilities – the language style and format of application induces stress in this group of customers and often deters customers from applying. The legal statements read out to the customer on the application request helpline are confusing and frightening to potential customers wishing to apply. It can take a considerable amount of time to get through to the phone line, customers with mental health issues often abandon the call without success. A wider range of contact mediums should be offered to support this group.

2)      Medical assessments – the healthcare professional should be from a relevant field e.g., a spinal consultant or physio for a customer with spinal disability, a CPN or mental health care professional for a customer citing depressive state

3)      Form format PIP2 needs two clear sections one for mental health and one for physical disabilities this is not currently obvious to customers applying

4)      More focus should be on widening the scope of evidence a customer can provide example: Not uncommon for a customer to be disengaging with GP if Mental health issues may not be compliant with treatment and medication – evidence from other than medical professionals is not given enough weighing in the assessment process.

5)      Applicants should be advised what additional evidence they can provided if an application is borderline for an award rather than outright refusal this would reduce the number of cases going to Mandatory reconsideration and or appeal – this would also support successful applications without the need for a face to face assessment

6)      If moving to one single assessment for both PIP and ESA there should not be a refusal of both benefits automatically rather two separate considerations and MR/ appeals to ensure where customers may not qualify for one benefit but may still qualify for another, they are not left without access to any benefits at all

7)      Processing time of applications needs to be reduced significantly as this causes significant hardship and distress often causing the customer to deteriorate health wise

8)      More support for customers with other vulnerable needs to apply Example: English not first language, history of homelessness, domestic abuse – more face to face support to apply and more interpreters not relying on language interpretation calls which can be distressing if three way calls

9)      Enhanced and more effective training of DWP staff particularly Decision Maker roles.

10)  Better understanding of the reasonable regularity legislation – can the customer do the task every time they need to in a safe manner in a reasonable time frame – performing task once should not mean they are deemed able to complete every time required.

11)  Wider emphasis on mental health issues and how they prevent customer taking therapy treatment and medication – too much focus on physical aspect of this task – same for reading speech and hearing there is no weight given to a customer becoming unable to focus well enough mentally to read and retain information, hear, or receive/give oral communication of information.

12)  The thresholds for test are too low and basic example: Knowing basic money being able to speak three or more words fluently in simple sentence – again reasonable regularity test should be given more consideration

13)  Rape victims should be made clear to victims of sexual assault they can request a preferred gender for assessment or a remote video conference assessment. More emphasis on processing applications on the evidence provided on paper based application removing the need for medical assessments.

14)  Long term or lifelong health conditions where a prognosis of no improvement in health condition or deterioration lifetime awards or long term awards should be available E.G. Autism

15)  Less emphasis on customers with mental health issues being engaged with specialist mental health teams and high levels oof medication – during the pandemic many severely unwell customers with mental health were unable to access the specialist support they required due to a lack of local resource. Many customers cite that they are unable to tolerate medication and a lack of this evidence should not detract from the customer’s care and mobility support needs.

16)  Enhanced mobility element – greater consideration and access to this element should be considered on mental health applicants whereby the applicant is severely restricted by their mental health and cannot go outdoors on a regular and safe basis or unaccompanied. Again, the threshold is too high

17)  Safeguarding of applicants needs to be reviewed particularly on renewal cases where ending the benefit award could present serious risk to customer life. Customers in receipt of a legacy benefit where removal of the PIP award would result in loss of a severe disability premium and potential premature move onto Universal Credit from the legacy disability benefit the SDP should have an extension period and a fast track Mandatory reconsideration should be considered to mitigate the risk too customer.


November 2021