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Tories want to hire a new ‘head of pandemic preparedness’ – after they axed the old systems for doing that

Head of Pandemic Un-preparedness: Boris Johnson’s reaction to Covid-19 was so poor that he actually caught the disease himself and then sent us all letters, claiming to provide advice on how not to do the same.

The Tories have been accused of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, after they advertised for a new ‘head of pandemic preparedness’ six months into the Covid crisis.

But the facts are actually worse than that.

The idea is to pay someone £61,000 a year to “learn the lessons” (how many times have we heard that?) from the crisis and ensure the UK is properly prepared for any similar situation in the future.

And yes, it is too late for all that.

But the reason it’s too late is that the Tories spent the last 10 years dismantling the UK’s system of preparation for any pandemic disease.

I wrote about this back in March so perhaps people have forgotten. Here’s the gist:

The UK government has strategies for dealing with events like this. The Cabinet Office keeps a National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies which it must keep up-to-date – and every single copy of this document ever made lists “pandemic flu” as the most probable and devastating threat to the UK.

This means the government has devised strategies to deal with such a threat. The problem is, they are all out of date.

Oldest of them all is the guide to dealing with the fatalities of the pandemic,  last published in 2008. This has never been updated since the Conservatives took over responsibility for it.

The last strategy written specifically to deal with pandemic flu was published in 2011 – the same year David Cameron’s Conservative-led Coalition government closed the dedicated government Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Team based in the Department of Health, which was tasked with tackling this type of crisis.

It may explain much that the government’s UK Pandemic Influenza Communications Strategy, the crucial document for getting the right messages across to the public, was written in 2012 and is now wildly inaccurate in its assumptions about how and where people get their information.

In October 2016, David Cameron’s now wholly-Conservative government carried out an exercise to estimate the impact of a hypothetical influenza pandemic on the United Kingdom. Exercise Cygnus showed that such a pandemic would cause the country’s health system to collapse, due to a lack of resources.

The Chief Medical Officer of the time said that a lack of medical ventilators was a serious problem that should be rectified, but in 2017 this advice was ignored by the Department of Health under Jeremy Hunt – because it would cost too much. The government was committed to austerity policies, remember.

So you see, we used to have whole teams dedicated to ensuring that the UK could weather a pandemic without serious harm to the population.

And the Tories got rid of the lot.

And now they want to replace them with a single person.

So let’s float a wild theory.

Is it possible that the Tories knew a pandemic like Covid-19 could cause huge numbers of unnecessary deaths, and decided to allow it to happen?

I’ll answer that for you: we know it is because it is exactly what Boris Johnson advocated on live television in early March.

Is it possible that all their decisions since then have been dedicated to this end, rather than towards saving people’s lives, and this is why every single strategy they have started has been a dismal failure?

And, in line with this thinking…

Is it possible that this position will be nothing more than a “figurehead” role, to be quietly dissolved after a few years so we can all fall victim to the next viral disaster?

Source: Government to hire ‘Head of Pandemic Preparedness’ six months into Covid-19 crisis – Mirror Online

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DWP crashes to another court defeat over sickness benefits

The High Court – also known as the Royal Courts of Justice – in London.

The High Court has just ruled that a rule allowing the Department for Work and Pensions to force some benefit claimants to wait – unpaid – for a mandatory reconsideration before they can appeal against refusal is unlawful.

The system previously demanded that, if a claim for income-related Employment and Support Allowance was refused, claimants would have to wait for a “mandatory reconsideration” of their case to take place before they could appeal.

This could take weeks, and has often taken months, in which the claimant – who is claiming because of serious illness, remember – has no income on which to survive.

Mr Justice Swift ruled that the demand that a mandatory reconsideration must take place before a claimant can appeal is a “disproportionate interference with the right of access to court” – in some cases.

This case was brought by law graduate Michael Conner, with crowdfunded aid from the website Benefits and Work – and represents a considerable victory for the claimant, the website, and crowdfunded legal proceedings in general.

Mr Connor had been forced to wait 18 weeks while the DWP carried out a mandatory reconsideration of his ESA decision. During this time he had no right to claim ESA.

If he had been able to lodge an appeal, he would have been paid ESA on a probationary rate, dependent on the provision of medical evidence by his doctor.

The judge said that after his benefit was cancelled on October 18, 2018, Mr Connor applied for a mandatory reconsideration.

But, in an “error” of the kind that benefit claimants have come to expect from the DWP, he said “no action was taken in response… The request for revision was incorrectly entered onto the Secretary of State’s electronic document management system.

“The document was not recognised or recorded as a request for reconsideration, and instead was classified as ‘unstructured whitemail'” and “it was not until 6 March 2019 – 4 months after Mr Connor’s request had been received – that it was identified as a request for revision.”

Mr Connor had managed to claim Income Support and Carer’s Allowance in the meantime, so he decided not to appeal the decision. Instead, he informed the DWP that he intended to challenge the legality of the rule making him unable to appeal until a mandatory reconsideration had happened.

He pointed out that:

  • The rule creates an open-ended deferral of the right to appeal that could leave claimants without income for an unlimited period – as evidenced by his own case.
  • Its effect is anomalous as ESA is payable before a decision is made and while an appeal is taking place, but not while the DWP is going through the mandatory reconsideration process [or, more likely, forgetting about it – in the opinion of This Writer].
  • If an appeal is started, there is no provision for back payment of ESA to cover the period of the revision decision while an appeal is ongoing.
  • So the interference is disproportionate because “it places benefits claimants, such as him, who are vulnerable, in a position of ‘legal and financial limbo, distress and destitution’ for the duration of the revision process that must be pursued before an appeal can be commenced” – and there is “no limit on the time permitted to the Secretary of State to determine an application for revision.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Swift said: “It is anomalous that the payment pending appeal arrangements for ESA … do not extend to ESA claimants who are required … to request the Secretary of State to revise a decision and await her decision on that request before initiating an appeal.

“At the hearing of this case I gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to … explain why no provision exists to pay ESA to claimants… None of this further information provides the answer.

“My conclusion is that [the regulation in question] is a disproportionate interference with the right of access to court, so far as it applies to claimants to ESA who, once an appeal is initiated, meet the conditions for payment pending appeal.

“The advantage permitted to the Secretary of State by [the] regulation … comes at a cost to ESA claimants. There is no explanation for that.

“There is no evidence to support a conclusion that the objective pursued by [the] regulation … would to any extent be compromised if payments like the payments pending appeal made to ESA claimants who are pursuing appeals to the Tribunal, were made to them while they waited on the Secretary of State’s revision decision.

“In the absence of payment equivalent to payment pending appeal, the application of [the] regulation … to ESA claimants does not strike the required fair balance, and for that reason is an unjustified impediment to the right of access to court guaranteed by ECHR Article 6.”

Benefits and Work has stated: “Sadly, the ruling does not apply to other benefits such as PIP or DLA.

Nonetheless, it is an important victory and it means that ESA claimants, who are often faced with the prospect of many weeks without funds if they wish to appeal, are now in a much better position when challenging a decision.”

It will be interesting to see what will happen now.

The ruling is that the current situation is unlawful but no further remedy has been put in place beyond a statement to that effect.

What will happen to ESA claimants who must go through the mandatory reconsideration process now? Will they be paid while their case is reviewed?

That seems the logical course.

But I fear the DWP may find a way to duck out of it.

Source: Connor, R (On the Application Of) v The Secretary of State for Work And Pensions [2020] EWHC 1999 (Admin) (24 July 2020)

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Did Tory-run DWP change rules on cancelling benefits to avoid humiliation in court?

Errol Graham: he starved to death after the Department for Work and Pensions cut off his benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions has quietly changed its rules on stopping benefits of vulnerable claimants – after relatives of a man who died of starvation won the right to have a judicial review.

Relatives of Errol Graham were granted permission for a judicial review of DWP policies after the department failed to review and revise them itself, following his death.

The DWP ignored its own safeguarding advice to deprive Errol Graham of his benefits, This Site reported previously.

Left with no income, Mr Graham starved to death.

He had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.

The DWP stopped Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on August 31, 2017.

He had not been asked to fill in an ESA50 questionnaire, though.

The government department managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on October 17, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

Its own rules state that it should have made both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Not only that, but the DWP had needed – but failed – to seek further medical evidence from Mr Graham’s GP, in order to make an informed decision about him.

In fact, it seems this would not have made much difference as Mr Graham’s GP had not seen him since 2013, or recalled him for vital blood tests or issued prescriptions since 2015, despite medical conditions including significant, long-term mental distress and hypothyroidism.

Because he had lost his entitlement to ESA, Mr Graham’s housing benefit was also stopped.

When bailiffs knocked down his front door to evict him on June 20, 2018, they found a dead body that weighed just four and a half stone. The only food in the flat was a couple of out-of-date tins of fish.

Mr Graham was 57 years old.

Solicitors Leigh Day, acting for Mr Graham’s family, revealed they had won the right to have a judicial review last week.

And on Tuesday – the day before Parliament rose for the summer recess – the DWP told Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee that it had changed the rules.

Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said: “If we tried all of that [contacting the claimant by phone and carrying out two safeguarding visits] we would then take that back and have a case conference about the individual and particularly, obviously if it’s someone with vulnerabilities that we know about, then we would seek to involve other organisations that might have a different way of knowing about that individual.

“And then we would seek to understand what do they know about that individual and how can we support them.

“And if that fails that could then be escalated to the safeguarding leads. And in that way basically what we’d seek to do is provide support not removal of benefits.”

Do you believe that?

Tessa Gregory of Leigh Day seems sceptical, still: “Today’s announcement that the procedures have changed is news to us and news to our client.

“Whilst we cautiously welcome the announcement, it is imperative that the Secretary of State publishes the relevant guidance immediately so that our client and the public can see whether it actually requires decision makers to liaise with different agencies in cases like Errol’s and whether enough has been done to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected.”

This Writer thinks the best way to achieve that aim is to go ahead with the judicial review. Why were these changes only brought in when the Tory government was facing humiliation in court?

Source: DWP chiefs quietly change rule on stopping benefits after man starved to death – Mirror Online

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Now the Tories have stopped publishing Covid-19 death figures – with a flimsy excuse

The Conservative government has stopped telling us how many people are dying of Covid-19 every day because it contradicts the plan to lift lockdown.

I mean: because Health Secretary Matt Hancock has demanded a review of the way the figures are calculated.

But here’s a suggestion: why can’t the figures be published using the current system, until this review is completed and a new method put into practice if necessary?

ITV’s news story says researchers have claimed the way deaths are reported across England has led to an “over-exaggeration” of the figures due to “statistical flaws”.

This suggests that the figures as reported are higher than the actual number of deaths.

But whenever I’ve seen the figures modified, it is the new total that is higher.

So I doubt the sincerity of these so-called “researchers'” remarks. And I distrust the Tories’ reason for suppressing the numbers altogether.

Source: Publication of UK daily coronavirus death figures put on ‘pause’ as Matt Hancock calls for review into PHE data | ITV News

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Court showdown for DWP over Errol Graham – who starved to death after his benefits were axed

Errol Graham: he starved to death after the Department for Work and Pensions cut off his benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will have to answer questions in court about the legality of its safeguarding policies after a family challenged it over the death of a vulnerable man.

The DWP ignored its own safeguarding advice to deprive Errol Graham of his benefits, This Site reported previously.

Left with no income, Mr Graham starved to death.

He had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.

The DWP stopped Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on August 31, 2017.

He had not been asked to fill in an ESA50 questionnaire, though.

The government department managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on October 17, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

Its own rules state that it should have made both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Not only that, but the DWP had needed – but failed – to seek further medical evidence from Mr Graham’s GP, in order to make an informed decision about him.

In fact, it seems this would not have made much difference as Mr Graham’s GP had not seen him since 2013, or recalled him for vital blood tests or issued prescriptions since 2015, despite medical conditions including significant, long-term mental distress and hypothyroidism.

Because he had lost his entitlement to ESA, Mr Graham’s housing benefit was also stopped.

When bailiffs knocked down his front door to evict him on June 20, 2018, they found a dead body that weighed just four and a half stone. The only food in the flat was a couple of out-of-date tins of fish.

Mr Graham was 57 years old.

Now, solicitors Leigh Day tell us:

“Mr Graham’s son’s partner, Alison Turner, has been granted permission to a full judicial review challenging the legality of the current safeguarding policies and the failure of the DWP to review and revise those policies as promised at Errol’s inquest.

“Alison will argue that the safeguarding policies are unlawful as they create a significant risk of breaching the human rights of vulnerable individuals like Errol and she will seek a declaration that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, has unlawfully breached her legitimate expectation that a review would be carried out resulting in revised policies.

“Following the Court Order the DWP now has 35 days to serve her Detailed Grounds and Evidence defending the safeguarding policies and explaining why Ms Coffey has not reviewed and amended those policies as promised at Errol’s inquest.”

Yes, there was an inquest – at which the Assistant Coroner decided not to write a “Regulation 28” report demanding changes to DWP safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the DWP claimed it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.

No such review has ever seen the light of day.

The court has ordered that a two-day hearing be listed to consider the case.

Ms Turner said: “Errol had a long history of serious mental illness which left him severely incapacitated. When the circumstances of his death came to light we had hoped – and from what the DWP stated at the inquest, we had expected – that the department would review their safeguarding policies and involve us in that review.

“But, incredibly, that has not happened. We deserve answers and those answers need to be public for the sake of other families and other vulnerable benefits claimants who suffer similar mental health difficulties.

“No one else should be put at risk in the same way Errol was because adequate safeguarding measures are not in place.”

Ms Turner is represented by Tessa Gregory, who said: “Our client believes that the DWP’s current safeguarding policies are not fit for purpose as they expose vulnerable individuals to a significant risk of harm, as was so tragically illustrated by Errol’s death.

“The DWP committed at Errol’s inquest to reviewing the applicable policies but two years after his death and one year after the inquest, nothing has changed.

“Our client therefore feels she has been left with no option but to bring these proceedings to … force the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that no other families have to suffer in the terrible way her family has.”

Source: Family Of Errol Graham Granted Permission For Judicial Review Against DWP

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Try telling Errol Graham that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Oh you can’t – he’s dead

Errol Graham.

What? You think Errol Graham only died because he was ill? Your Conservative government is multiply-prejudiced and can ensure that people die for any number of trumped-up and ridiculous reasons.

Consider this:

Fair point?

Errol Graham was starved to death by a prejudiced Conservative-run benefit system.

My report on Mr Graham states:

He had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.

The DWP stopped Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on August 31, 2017.

He had not been asked to fill in an ESA50 questionnaire, though. Why not?

The government department managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on October 17, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

Its own rules state that it should have made both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

So the Tories cut off his benefits early, after a botched benefit reassessment procedure.

Here’s the clincher:

On an ESA form years before, he had told the DWP he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”

He said: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”

The DWP had needed – but failed – to seek further medical evidence from Mr Graham’s GP, in order to make an informed decision about him.

In fact, it seems this would not have made much difference as Mr Graham’s GP had not seen him since 2013, or recalled him for vital blood tests or issued prescriptions since 2015, despite medical conditions including significant, long-term mental distress and hypothyroidism.

It was known that Mr Graham’s condition made him fear contact with people he did not know – like benefit assessors who turned up on his doorstep unannounced. But they still did it. And they still demanded that he attend a work capability assessment in a place full of people he did not know, without even having sent him a benefit claim form first.

They treated him unfairly. Isn’t that the whole point of the Black Lives Matter movement – that people of colour are treated unfairly?

As a result, he starved to death.

And the only reason we know this is his Housing Benefit was cut off at the same time as ESA, so he stopped paying rent. His body was found by bailiffs entering the house to repossess it.

The Tory-run Department for Work and Pensions would never have checked up on his well-being.

We already knew this. When I submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out how many people had died after the Tory government had cancelled their sickness benefit claims, the Department for Work and Pensions said it was unable to provide information for anyone whose claims had been cancelled more than two weeks before their deaths. It is government policy to leave these people to fend for themselves with no support at all.

Of course, leaving someone to starve to death in their home is not as dramatic as beating them to death on the street (or asphyxiating them, in the case of George Floyd).

But it is still prejudicial treatment.

So, what is the current outcry saying, if it does not include sick/disabled people like Errol Graham in its outrage?

Is it really saying some black lives matter more than others?

Let’s change that.

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Is the government cutting school meal vouchers for ALL deprived kids?

No square meals: vulnerable children will be forced to go hungry during the school holidays because the stingy Tory government wants them to starve.

School meal vouchers for deprived children in at least one council area are being stopped – because it’s half term.

Isn’t that typically short-sighted of the Conservative government (Westminster funds the scheme)?

The coronavirus crisis means more people than ever are short of cash, and this will only tip the most vulnerable even further into poverty.

This is a decision to starve children – and for no reason at all.

Here’s the Liverpool Echo:

Children in one of Britain’s most deprived boroughs will have to go without free school meals over half term.

Knowsley Council said it was unable to extend its voucher system over the break as the government would not fund the scheme outside term time.

Cllr Jayne Aston, the borough’s finance chief, said: “Despite our best efforts, and those of other organisations, we have been unable to persuade the government to recognise the challenge many families are facing and fund the vouchers over the school half term break.”

Although the government agreed to fund free school meals during the Easter holidays, it has so far refused to extend provision into either half term or the summer break.

How many children in other council areas will be affected by this?

And how much harm will the Tories cause by making them starve?

Source: Government won’t fund school meal vouchers for deprived kids over half term – Liverpool Echo

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Appeal Court rules benefit claimants must not lose financially from wrong DWP decisions

Thousands of people who were knocked off-benefit in error by the Department for Work and Pensions and then put on the lower-paying Universal Credit could claim compensation after a court ruling.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that claimants should not lose out financially if they were forced to switch onto Universal Credit due to an “error of law”.

The case concerned three women who said their benefits were stopped unfairly.

They were subsequently put back on the benefit system, but on Universal Credit, which paid much less than they had previously received, with no transition payments.

They had to apply for UC after the DWP wrongly stopped their benefits in March 2017. Reviewing their cases, the DWP acknowledged the errors made and the decision to stop their benefits was overturned – but they were unable to return to their previous, higher level of welfare support.

They were also not eligible to receive “transitional protection” payments – cash top-ups designed to cover shortfalls for people moving on to UC.

Disabled Patricia Reynolds told the court she lost £180 per month, and a woman known only as TD, together with her severely disabled daughter, lost £140 per month for 18 months.

The three claimants lost their case at the High Court in March last year, but three leading judges overturned that decision at the Court of Appeal.

Lord Justice Singh said: “I have come to the conclusion, that in the present context, the difference in treatment was manifestly disproportionate in its impact on these appellants having regard to the legitimate aim which the DWP sought to achieve.

“It was therefore manifestly without reasonable foundation.”

He added the three women were treated as they were due to “administrative cost and complexity, which have nothing to do with the merits of their cases”.

He went on: “The only reason, in reality, why they moved from legacy benefits to UC was as a result of errors of law by the state itself.”

The judge said it is now for the Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey, to decide how to respond to the declaration granted by the court.

The Child Poverty Action Group, which represented the claimants, said the ruling could affect thousands of people whose claims for legacy benefits were terminated wrongly.

It claimed that the DWP must act swiftly to implement the judgement, so anyone who claims UC after an incorrect decision to end their previous benefits is protected against financial losses.

The DWP, of course, sees it differently – and is saying far fewer people are likely to deserve compensation.

Source: DWP suffers Court of Appeal defeat that ‘could help thousands’ on Universal Credit – Mirror Online

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Tories tell DWP to strip families of tax credits if they make Universal Credit claim

It would have been nice to be told this in advance.

Apparently more than two million people have claimed Universal Credit after losing income because of the coronavirus crisis.

If any of them were claiming tax credits before applying for the benefit, they have been cancelled.

And the government has refused to give advice on whether a person is better-off claiming tax credits or Universal Credit.

Add it all up and if it looks like a trap, then that’s what it is.

The guide published by the DWP explains that “not all tax credit recipients will be eligible to receive universal credit. If you claim universal credit, your tax credit claim will be closed, even if you aren’t eligible to receive universal credit.”

The UK government has also refused to give guidance on which benefit people should be claiming, stating: “DWP and HMRC cannot advise whether claiming universal credit or tax credits will be better for you.”

SNP MSP Bob Doris said… “This guidance appears reckless and spiteful. Now, more than ever, we need a welfare system which is easy to use, so that people don’t fall foul of the complexities of applying for benefits and end up with no support whatsoever.”

There is a welfare system which is easy to use – they’re using it in Spain right now. It’s called Universal Basic Income.

The UK’s Tory government passed on that. It preferred the complicated way.

We see now that this is because it would cause the maximum harm to the greatest number of people.

And every day they tell you they’re doing their best to protect you. And every day millions of people believe them.

If you’re on lockdown and looking for something useful to do, here’s a thought:

Why don’t you tell people what’s really going on?

Source: ‘Reckless and spiteful’ DWP stripping families of tax credits after an unsuccesful universal credit claim – Welfare Weekly

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Man with neurological disability fights to get vital benefits back after Tories took them away

A man with incurable neurological conditions including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome was told his benefits had been cancelled as the coronavirus crisis hit the UK.

Simon Noonan, of Renfrew, Scotland, was deemed ineligible for Personal Independence Payment in February, after receiving the benefit for a year.

But he only discovered his benefit had been cancelled at the beginning of April. Clearly nobody responsible had the courage to tell him – they just cut him off without a word.

Now he has been told he may contest the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions – while also dealing with the stress of trying to cope without the benefit during the coronavirus lockdown.

The loss of the vital income is affecting both his mental health and that of his partner, Sarah Brodie, who has lost Carer’s Allowance as a result of the decision.

Mr Noonan had to spend seven months trying to claim PIP before the DWP accepted that he was eligible, and he had been receiving it on a monthly basis when he was told he would have to undergo a reassessment at the beginning of the year.

This is highly unusual as PIP reassessments are not usually made so soon after a claimant starts to receive the benefit. People with conditions that are unlikely to improve receive awards for between five and 10 years.

Ms Brodie said the appointment lasted only five minutes and did not go into enough depth to assess his condition properly.

But he must now request a mandatory reconsideration, with a view to possibly taking his appeal to a tribunal.

And in the meantime the couple are in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, with no money and no means of getting any.

Source: Man with neurological disorder fights to get vital benefits back – Daily Record

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