The problem with fighting the government to protect the vulnerable is that the government can keep attacking relentlessly.
Years ago, I ran a successful campaign that showed that thousands of people had died because the Department for Work and Pensions had denied them sickness benefits for no apparent reason.
It raised awareness that DWP decisions could be wrong and could be challenged, and I hope it saved a few lives.
Now, it seems the DWP has been quietly running a new scam – denying claims for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by claiming to have lost the forms, or falsely recording that they have arrived after the deadline for returning them has passed:
Up to 42,000 claimants had their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) award stopped in 2021, an increase of almost 300% in just two years. 25,400 claims were disallowed in 2020. The figures were revealed by Tom Pursglove, DWP minister for disabled people, in response to a written parliamentary question.
The figures refer to people who allegedly failed to return their AR1 PIP review form but it is not known whether non-return includes forms that were returned late. It is also not clear how many people challenged the decision that they had failed to return their form on time.
Mr Pursglove’s response shows that the number of claims disallowed each year for non-return of the AR1 review form have increased steadily year on year since 2017, when there were 7,500 claims disallowed.
The DWP has come out with its usual flannel about helping millions of people every year – as though that is some kind of huge achievement and not its job.
It says only a small proportion of claimants are penalised for non-return of forms, as though 67,400 people in two years is a small number and not more people than live in entire towns the size of Taunton or Hereford.
I tend to agree with the website Benefits and Work, which has stated:
The number of claimants allegedly failing to return their forms seems to be far outstripping any rises in awards that had taken place at the time. We know that the DWP’s post handling and call management is dire and getting ever worse. It seems very possible that many disallowed claimants are returning their forms on time, but the DWP is either losing them or taking far too long before recording that they have been received.
“We have no way of knowing how many of the 42,000 claimants appealed or how many simply gave up in despair, even though they knew they had returned their form on time. Other claimants may have failed to return the review form because of the effects of a physical or mental health condition.”
The DWP reckons it ‘watermarks’ files on claimants with serious mental health or cognitive conditions who have difficulty communicating or engaging with the process as Additional Support (AS) – meaning they will be asked to attend a PIP assessment even if they fail to return their form.
And claimants who are identified or deemed as vulnerable – due to their circumstances, not just their condition – are watermarked ‘Additional Customer Support (ACS)’.
But I can’t help remember how Mrs Mike was ‘watermarked’ when she appealed against a decision to put her in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance. Her file was marked ‘Do Not Contact’, and we knew nothing about it until we were notified that her year on the benefit had expired and she was no longer entitled to it.
As is well-documented in previous articles on this site, I went through the roof and the government department backtracked rapidly. Mrs Mike is now in the support group, where she belongs.
So I have doubts about DWP ‘watermarking’ claims.
As far as lost or delayed forms are concerned, I recommend that anybody claiming benefits from the DWP make a copy of any forms they send, and post the forms using a system that requires a DWP representative to sign for them. This evidence can then be copied from the Royal Mail and used to show exactly when the DWP receives the forms.
Alternatively, if the DWP doesn’t receive the forms, claimants can get in touch, say their forms have been lost by the Royal Mail, and request a new set of forms and an extension to their deadline. The forms can then be duplicated, using the copies of the original that have already been made.
Does that seem fair? Does anybody with experience of the current system have any other ideas?
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