‘I’m owed £5k as I can’t access disability assessment centre’

‘I’m owed £5k as I can’t access assessment centre’

A WOMAN has lost out on more than £5,000 in disability benefits… as she cannot access her local assessment centre. Jaki Whyte, from Colchester, has been out of work for 10 years as she is disabled.

In order to claim her Employment and Support Allowance she needs to attend the assessment centre in Colchester. However the centre in Wellington Street came under fire recently for its inaccessibility.

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Why is There No Disabled Access or Parking at Capita’s Birmingham PIP Assessment Centre

Hundreds have signed a petition for the centre to be made accessible by wheelchair users, as it has a 5ins step to the entrance. Jaki has been asking for a solution for the past two years.

She said: “It has affected me badly, in June the department for work and pensions classed me as fit to work as I am failing to attend appointments, but the reason is because I cannot get into the building and have to be manhandled in.

“It’s a matter of life or death for people like me, it’s so important.”

The DWP registers someone as fit to work if they do not register their presence at the assessment centre.

As Jaki has an electric mobility scooter, she cannot get inside the building. Because of this, her attendance has not been registered and she is now owed more than £5,000 in benefits. She has been trying to find a solution for the past two years.

She said: “I have been asking for a ramp there since 2016, I have suggested other venues but they refuse. “They class you as not attending even if you are sat outside the building, I have asked them to come and do an assessment outside in the car park but they will not do it.

“They also say I’m not sick enough for a home visit, but this has adversely affected my mental health.” She has asked her GP to apply for a home visit twice, but nothing has come from her requests. She has now been without benefits for 43 weeks.

She has been offered appointments at the centre in Chelmsford, but explained she cannot get there. Jaki has also suggested the DWP use the PIP centre in Hawkins Road, which has disabled access, but she was told there would be health and safety issues.

A DWP spokesman explained all of its Centres for Health and Disability Assessments comply with the Equality Act and where a centre is not directly accessible from street level, this is made clear before a person’s appointment.

The authority has also promised it will ask the assessment provider to revisit what else can be done to make the building more accessible. A spokesperson said: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring disabled people get the right support that they need.

“All our centres meet legal accessibility requirements, but we go further and can arrange to meet at more accessible sites nearby or discuss whether a home visit would be appropriate.”

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Just how Ill do you have to be to claim Attendance Allowance?

Anger over woman’s benefit refusal appeal defeat

pipx

An elderly West Norfolk woman is being denied care support because benefit rules do not properly support her needs, campaigners say. A county court judge has upheld a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions not to pay attendance allowance to Joan Buckley, who has severe arthritis.

But Mrs Buckley’s supporters believe the rules are not being applied consistently and should be changed to ensure she, and others in a similar position, get the care they need. Her neighbour, Ruth Ashton, who supported her appeal, said the current criteria are “appalling.”

She added: “She doesn’t want the money to go on a spending spree. It’s to pay for people to help her.” Under current benefit rules, attendance allowance is paid to people aged 65 and over who have a disability that is severe enough to require either care for the patient, or for them to be supervised to ensure their or others’ safety.

The allowance is paid at two different weekly rates, according to the severity of a patient’s disability. Miss Ashton, of Gaywood, said Mrs Buckley’s condition is so serious that it makes everyday tasks difficult and had also led to several accidents at her home before council officials agreed to the installation of a wet room on safety grounds.

However, a judgement, issued following a tribunal hearing in Lynn last Wednesday, concluded Mrs Buckley was not entitled to payments because “the statutory conditions for this benefit are not satisfied.”

But Miss Ashton said the decision applied an excessively narrow definition of care needs which was not applied to all cases. She said: “I know of three subjects who have been awarded attendance allowance which has not considered their personal care needs.”

She added that she was considering taking the case to advice services such as Citizens’ Advice and local politicians.

A government information page on the payments said: “Attendance Allowance helps with extra costs if you have a disability severe enough that you need someone to help look after you. It doesn’t cover mobility needs.”

However, elderly and disability rights charities stress that applicants can still apply again in future, particularly if their need for support increases.

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Disabled people lose legal aid in 99% of benefits disputes

Official figures show that cuts have caused a massive drop in claimants granted help for welfare battles
legal aid protest
Lawyers and protesters demonstrate against changes to the legal aid budget

The extent to which savage government cuts have deprived disabled people of legal aid in disputes over their benefit payments is revealed today by new official figures that show a 99% decline since 2011.

The total number of disabled people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011-12 to just 308 in 2016-17, cutting some of the most vulnerable people in society adrift without expert advice in often highly complex and distressing cases.

MPs and charities representing disabled people reacted furiously to the figures, released in a parliamentary answer, saying they bore out their worst fears at the time ministers announced the cuts several years ago.

They called on the government to speed up an ongoing review of the legal aid system and to end a Whitehall culture that, they say, too often views disabled people as easy targets for savings.

Drastic cuts to the £2bn legal aid budget were imposed in 2013 as part of the Tory austerity drive championed by former chancellor George Osborne. The 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act removed more than £350m from the legal aid budget and ended the right to legal representation in many benefits cases, as well as others concerning divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, employment, immigration and housing.

The Labour MP Gloria de Piero, who raised the issue with ministers, said the Conservatives insisted when their austerity programme was announced that the cuts would not hit the most needy. “The staggering fall in the numbers of disabled people challenging, if they believe their benefits have been wrongly removed, shows just how many vulnerable people are now denied access to justice because of the government’s cruel legal aid cuts,” she said.

Richard Lane, head of communications at disability charity Scope, called the figures “shocking”. He said they were proof that disabled people were now in “a weaker position to challenge inaccuracy and poor decision-making within government welfare systems”.

Gill Coddington, a former civil servant and benefits expert who works at Scope’s helpline, offering guidance on how people can manage claims, said that of about 23,000 calls to the helpline every year, two-thirds related to issues to do with benefits. She said the cuts to legal aid meant that now only a tiny number – those whose cases reached the very highest tribunals – were granted help.

Labour MP Gloria de Piero has raised the issue with ministers.
Labour MP Gloria de Piero has raised the issue

“The work we do can be very distressing,” she said. “Combined with the administrative changes, and changes to the assessment culture, they have helped contribute to a demonisation of disabled people. Many who call our helpline feel they have no one standing up for them any more. Until 2013, legal aid for welfare benefits offered disabled people proper access to justice that they no longer have.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson denied the government was depriving the most needy of help. “Maintaining access to justice remains at the heart of our legal aid system, and last year we spent over £1.6bn to ensure help is available for those who need it most,” the spokesperson said. “We are conducting an evidence-based review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, to assess the changes made against their objectives. We will publish our findings this year.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, who herself suffers from nystagmus – a condition that causes the involuntary movement of the eye – and is registered as blind, said the entire legal aid system had been “hollowed out”, with terrible results. “Thousands of disabled people are being denied access to justice. When over two-thirds of social security appeals are lost by the Department for Work and Pensions, it is crucial the government adequately funds legal aid to ensure disabled people can have access to justice.”

“A Labour government would introduce a social security system that is fair and fit for purpose, and ensure disabled people are supported and have full access to the judicial system.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive officer of the charity Disability Rights UK, said: “The government was warned changes to access to legal aid would fall heavily on disabled people who need legal advice, and these figures show those concerns were real.

“Despite that, we’ve seen a massive rise in the number of people appealing disability benefit claims, and a huge increase in the number of successful appeals after people have been wrongly turned down. But our benefits system is complex to navigate, and more so since the raft of changes that have come in since 2012.”

He added: “Some people do need extra legal help and support, and if they don’t get it they may end up without benefits they’re entitled to.

“Access to justice is a fundamental human right as well as a sign of a civilised society. We’d urge the government to reverse the changes that are hitting disabled people so heavily.”

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Man not paid benefits since December worried he will lose his livelihood

Simon LaBarbera has not had his disability benefit since December 2017. He missed an assessment in November when the benefit changed from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, and has not been reassessed since. Simon uses a wheelchair, and is worried he will lose his Motability car, which will cost him his livelihood. NNL-181004-183927009

A Sydenham man who has not been paid disability benefit since December last year is worried he will lose his car and his livelihood if nothing changes. Simon LaBarbera, 36, of Baddesley Close, has been a wheelchair user all his life after being born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

He currently holds down a full-time job as a data inputter at Warwick Hospital, and was claiming Disability Living Allowance before the benefit changed to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

He was due to be seen by an assessor to see whether he was eligible for PIP on Monday November 13, but Simon got his dates mixed up and missed the appointment. Because of this, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) stopped his benefit on Tuesday December 12.

He is now worried he will no longer be able to afford his Motability car, which he relies on to get out and about. Although Motability, which offers cars at a discount to disabled drivers, gave Simon a grace period since his benefit stopped, he will lose the car on Tuesday June 26 if he does not pay them. Simon said:

“The car situation is really my most important priority. “If I don’t have my car, I won’t be able to get to work and I won’t be able to help out at Warwick and Leamington Phab (a youth club held in Leamington for disabled and able-bodied young people aged 10-19 years).

“My car is a support network for me that I’m lost without.”

Despite trying for a long time to get the situation sorted, Simon was only seen by the DWP again on Thursday April 12, five months after he was supposed to be seen initially. He has also appealed the DWP’s decision to deny him benefit after the mix-up in November. His case is now with the Tribunal Service awaiting a hearing date.

 Simon has been claiming disability benefit since he was a teenager, and could not believe how difficult it has been to claim PIP. He added: “I’ve got a disability that’s never going to get any better – this sort of thing should be taken into account (by the DWP).”

Simon’s aunt Sally Holland was also very critical of the situation.

She said: “This is about his wellbeing. He’s worked ever since he’s been able to work.

“If he loses his Motability car, he’d have to give up his job. “And where he lives is on a slope – he wouldn’t be able to get out of his street on his wheelchair.”

A spokesman for the DWP said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist.

“Anyone who is unhappy with their decision can keep their vehicle for up to six months while they await their mandatory reconsideration or appeal.”

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DWP worker given written warning after ‘nearly dying’ at work wins £26,000 payout from benefits bosses

Barrie Caulcutt says he was treated ‘mercilessly’ by his employers at the benefits in Caernarfon. A disabled benefits worker has won £26,000 compensation after an employment tribunal found he’d been unfairly treated his bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Barrie Caulcutt cried at the hearing, saying his life and health were ruined by bosses who called him a “whinger” who didn’t deserve to be treated nicely. The father-of-two, who suffers from anxiety, chronic asthma and eczema, had worked for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for 35 years with an “exemplary” attendance record.

Problems started after he was moved from a backroom finance office to work on the “frontline” in Caernarfon facing claimants who were angry because their benefits were being sanctioned.

He said felt “relieved and pleased” after the tribunal unanimously found the DWP had discriminated against him by failing to make reasonable adjustments for his disability. Mr Caulcutt said he felt his treatment had been “merciless”, adding: “My life was made hell.”

He was awarded over £26,000 compensation but further claims of harassment and victimisation were dismissed. Mr Caulcutt, who still works for the DWP and has had successful surgery for prostate cancer, said he was asked to deal with customers despite his deteriorating health and against the advice of his GP and the DWP’s occupational health assessors.

Barrie Caulcutt, of Caernarfon, won an employment tribunal case against his former employer the Department for Work and Pensions
Barrie Caulcutt, of Caernarfon, won an employment tribunal case against his former employer the Department for Work and Pensions (Image: Daily Post)

In March 2014, Mr Caulcutt, 55, of Y Glyn, Caernarfon, asked to be excused from a training seminar held in a small room because it made him anxious. He had an asthma attack and was rushed to hospital.

“I thought I was dead,” he said.

On his return, he was given a first written warning for taking 2.5 more sick days than allowed, marked down as “could improve” and pressurised to move to work at the Bangor DWP office.

An email sent by DWP manager Bev Lovatt to Caernarfon JobCentre manager Eiddwen Borland in September 2014 said: “Let him whinge like crap and raise it in his ET (Employment Tribunal). He doesn’t deserve us to be nice to him.”

It emerged that DWP bosses had taken photos of Mr Caulcutt and his disabled daughter at Tom Jones and Jessie J concerts in Colwyn Bay from his Facebook page, but DWP barrister David Tinkler denied there had been any “snooping”.

Barrie Caulcutt, pictured with his wife Ceri
Barrie Caulcutt, pictured with his wife Ceri (Image: Daily Post)

Mr Caulcutt’s wife Ceri said: “It’s been a nightmare. It’s made us all ill; anxious – everybody were really worried about him; what was to become of Barrie. At home, we’ve got children and a disabled daughter who needs looking after. It was one big stress. We’ve all been very upset.”

PCS union representative Peter Doughty, said: “It was callous and cruel to give a written warning to someone who nearly lost his life. I’m pleased for Barrie that he has stood up for his rights and that the tribunal found in his favour. It is, however, a sad reflection on the DWP that this case ever went all the way to a tribunal. The costs are a huge amount in comparison to the award. This is taxpayers money.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously and also expect the highest standards of behaviour from all employees. We will be reviewing the tribunal’s findings.”

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Mentally unwell woman has disability benefits stopped because assessor failed to turn up to home visit

Exclusive: Michelle Moloney, 40, who suffers from bipolar disorder type 2 and severe anxiety, was left unable to buy groceries after it was wrongly claimed she failed to attend assessment

A mentally ill woman has had her disability benefits stopped because her assessor failed to turn up to a home visit, leaving her unable to buy basic groceries and suffering high levels of anxiety.

Michelle Moloney, 40, was left hundreds of pounds down after she was informed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that because she “didn’t go” the assessment her Disability Living Allowance (DLA) would stop and her Personal Independent Payment (PIP) had been refused.

Capita, the company sub-contracted by the government to carry out disability benefit assessments, has since said the assessor arrived at the wrong time and apologised to Ms Moloney that their service “fell short of its high standards”.

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Ms Moloney, who lives in Nottinghamshire and suffers from bipolar disorder type 2, severe anxiety, and has a history of self-harm, received a letter from the DWP on 28 February stating that her PIP claim had been refused.

It went on to state: “This is because you didn’t go to the assessment on 14 February 2018 and we don’t think you’ve given us a good reason for this.”

When Ms Moloney sent a letter of complaint to Capita with the help of a friend, they responded on 14 March saying that based on information they had received from the assessor (“a description of her house”) meant they were “unable to uphold” the complaint.

But after being contacted by The Independent, Capita sent Ms Moloney another email on 28 March stating: “Following a further review of your appointment on 14 February 2018 it became apparent the Disability Assessor attended your property earlier than the scheduled appointment time.

“DWP agreed to send the case back to Capita for a new appointment. I can confirm an appointment has been scheduled for 9.15am on Monday 16 April 2018 at your home address.” As a result of the error, Ms Moloney missed out on £685 last month, which left her unable to eat properly and suffering from high levels of anxiety.

“I’ve not done my usual online shop. I’ve been living off bread and cheese rather than getting proper food to cook. I’ve been scared to spend money. I cancelled everything that wasn’t a must be paid direct debit,” she told The Independent.

“It’s increased my anxiety levels too, worrying about it and what I was going to do without that money and how long it would take for an appeal to get to a tribunal. “It has really upset me, more so because they messed up and stopped all my ESA instead of just the severe disability premium on it and I didn’t have any idea what was going on with that.  “Just losing the DLA, being refused PIP and having to figure out what I needed to do to start the process of appealing was stressful. My mood has dropped a lot.”

Charity Disability Rights UK said they routinely see poor practice in the way disability assessments are carried out, saying it was “unacceptable” that private companies are paid large sums of money to provide this service.

Ken Butler, welfare benefits advisor at the charity, told The Independent: “Time and time again we hear of poor assessment practices when it comes to disability benefits. This has a massive impact on people who qualify but are turned down for benefits because of bad administration and decision making.

“It’s unacceptable that companies like Capita, Atos and Maximus are paid hundreds of millions of pounds every year to provide a service to the public and are allowed to continue with their poor practices.

“The government should be doing more to hold them to account, and penalising them when they fail to deliver.”

He urged the government to “seriously consider” transferring responsibility for assessments to the public sector, rather than allowing them to be used as a “profit-making exercise”.

“In the meantime, disabled people must fully compensated for any extra costs they’ve incurred as a result of a poor assessment,” he added.

A Capita spokesperson, said: “We apologise to the individual that our service fell short of our high standards. On the rare occasion that this does happen, we investigate thoroughly and work with the person directly to address their issue.”

They added that they had been advised by DWP that her benefits have been reinstated.

It emerged last month that Capita and Independent Assessment Services (formerly known as Atos) – another private firm contracted by the government to carry out disability assessments – received a £40m increase in funding last year despite widespread concerns with the system.

A freedom of information request by The Independent found the DWP paid the companies nearly £255m last year to perform PIP assessments – the highest amount spent on the scheme since its launch in 2013.

It came after the High Court ruled the system was “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions, prompting the Government to announce it will review 1.6 million disability benefit claims. It could see up to 220,000 claimants receive higher payments.

The DWP came under fire last week after an investigation by the National Audit Office revealed the department had underpaid an estimated 70,000 people who transferred to ESA from other benefits over the past seven years.

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DWP reverses sanctions decision for epileptic man

DWP reverses sanctions decision for epileptic man who missed benefits appointment due to seizure

Luke O'Donnell, 24, was initially given a 21-day sanction.Luke O’Donnell, 24, was initially given a 21-day sanction.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has decided to reverse its decision to sanction a man who missed his Universal Credit meeting due to seizures,  after i reported the story.

Luke O’Donnell, who has epilepsy, told i in March he thought it was a “callous and cold-hearted” system for penalising him over missing the work-related appointment. He was initially given one 14-day sanction and one seven-day sanction because he had no medical evidence for the seizures. Mr O’Donnell, from Lincoln, requested a mandatory reconsideration of the decision, but the DWP initially refused to reverse it.

Read the story here: ‘It’s callous and cold-hearted’: A man with epilepsy was sanctioned after missing his Universal Credit appointment due to seizures

The 24-year-old’s story was widely shared and the Universal Credit department at the DWP has since said it will be lifting the sanctions. “I received a… courtesy phone call saying ‘it wasn’t the right decision’ and ‘they maybe didn’t take into account how serious epilepsy can be’,” Mr O’Donnell said.

Epilepsy is ‘misunderstood’

In the reconsideration letter, the Universal Credit department said “the claimant should be found to have good reason for failing to attend his work focused interview”.

“I feel that not enough consideration was placed on Mr O’Donnell’s health following three days of epileptic episodes,” the letter read. Mr O’Donnell previously said epilepsy was a “misunderstood” condition and difficult to explain to officials at the DWP.

Luke O'Donnell's letter from Universal Credit (page 1)
Luke O’Donnell’s letter from Universal Credit (page 1)
Luke O'Donnell's letter from Universal Credit (page 2)
Luke O’Donnell’s letter from Universal Credit (page 2)
Luke O'Donnell's letter from Universal Credit (page 3)
Luke O’Donnell’s letter from Universal Credit (page 3)

Mr O’Donnell was surprised but pleased by the department’s U-turn, adding that “a lot of pressure” had been lifted off him. “I was very stressed.”

But he added: “At the same time it did make me raise an eyebrow. Rather than an example of… their generosity, I think it was possibly more a case of them scurrying away tail between their legs.” The department had received “bad press” after he publicised his story, Mr O’Donnell added.

He stood by his comments that the benefits system was “callous and cold-hearted”.

‘DWP culture needs to change’

“The culture needs to change. When I was discussing it in the Job Centre yesterday, the bloke I was speaking to did say: ‘Here we’re all quite human but the people making these decisions, they’re in an office somewhere far removed from you and their job does appear to be effectively to find reasons to reject people.’”

Luke O’Donnell

“There’s definitely a culture of trying to catch people out and effectively save money by any means possible.”

He called for the DWP to train their staff to better deal with disability.

“But also the culture needs to change. When I was discussing it in the Job Centre yesterday, the bloke I was speaking to did say: ‘Here we’re all quite human but the people making these decisions, they’re in an office somewhere far removed from you and their job does appear to be effectively to find reasons to reject people.’”

Mr O’Donnell said: “What’s the point of having a social security system that’s designed to work against people. It completely defeats the purpose.

“I would encourage other people who think they’re being treated unfairly… [to] share it.

“The more people who are aware this kind of thing is going on, the more pressure can be put on [the DWP] to change their culture and change their mindset and make it a fairer system.”

Chantal Spittles, of Epilepsy Action, said: “We are pleased to hear the DWP has seen sense and reversed its original decision to sanction Luke for missing his appointment after having a seizure.

“Sanctions are not something we are generally comfortable with as a concept. The rules around not attending an appointment need changing to ensure situations like these do not happen again and people’s individual circumstances are taken into account. There needs to be flexibility within the system and a common-sense approach based on a deeper level of understanding.

People with epilepsy face challenges and discrimination across the whole welfare system. This is due to a lack of understanding of the complex and individual nature of the condition.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people with health conditions get the right support that they need. We have reinstated Mr O’Donnell’s benefit following a review of his case.”

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