It’s good to know that there is a person on each of these panels with experience of disability who can see claims from the disabled person’s point of view.
It’s good that there is a person who appreciates the frustrations of filling out the extraordinarily manipulative PIP claim form, and who advocates that claimants get advice from a benefits expert before even attempting it.
It is good that there is a person who is prepared to admit the assessment process may be extremely poorly administered, and that people should not just accept a refusal at face value.
But the number of appeals has fallen precipitously, from more than 20,000 in the third quarter of 2013 to 2,800 in the second quarter of 2015 (the most recent time for which statistics are available).
That is because the Conservative Government has made it more difficult to appeal.
The proportion of successful appeals remains steady at around 60 per cent, but that is no consolation for those people who weren’t given the chance to do so.
Look at the article below. There is genuine shock at the number of poor assessments being made – and that’s just among that that get to the appeal stage.
How many more people are being denied what is theirs by right, because the system is – in This Writer’s opinion – deliberately flawed?
“Do you ever hang on to the sink to help you get up off the toilet?” Not necessarily a conventional conversation piece, but occasionally a question I ask in a personal independence payment (PIP) appeal tribunal.
I sit on tribunals an average of two to three times a month, and am the so-called disability-qualified panel member. The other two are a lawyer and doctor, and between us we decide whether someone meets the criteria for a benefit award and will have their appeal upheld.
When deliberating the case above (let’s be original and call him Mr Smith, a middle-aged man with a musculoskeletal disorder), the doctor mildly chided me for asking such a direct question, suggesting that I had perhaps led the claimant to a “yes” answer, and pointing out that the claimant had said nothing on his form about needing help to get off the toilet.
As panel members, we have to be impartial. I reminded him that many people don’t understand how they should fill in the form and struggle to follow the logic of how the decisions are made about who gets benefit. Many people who come before us haven’t even thought about, let alone got, advice from a benefits expert (which they should always do, if they possibly can). Any half-decent adviser would have found Mr Smith needed help getting off the loo.
It’s part of my job to look at a claim from a disabled person’s perspective. I can ask questions about how someone has filled in the form and get an understanding of the implications of what they have (or haven’t) said.
Sometimes we can’t give an award because the rules don’t let us, and that can be frustrating. Often we are genuinely shocked because the quality of assessments are so incredibly bad that we can’t believe that someone has been forced to appeal to get a benefit they clearly qualify for. Some assessments would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious.
Mr Smith got his benefit, unanimously agreed by the panel, because of my question. Was the decision the right one? Yes, of course. Would he have got it if I hadn’t been there? I don’t think so.
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