A welfare rights advisor has described how at least 30 local benefit claimants with terminal cancer have had their claims rejected in the last year, with every one of the decisions later overturned by an appeal tribunal.
In every case, the claimant has been terminally-ill with cancer but has been told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they were completely ineligible for support from personal independence payment (PIP), before later being awarded the highest rate of PIP by a tribunal.
The evidence provided by welfare rights expert Duncan Walker, who works in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area, appears to be further proof of the dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system.
Disability News Service (DNS) has so far heard from more than 250 PIP claimants who say that healthcare professionals from government contractors Atos and Capita wrote dishonest reports for DWP after carrying out face-to-face assessments of their eligibility for the extra-costs benefit.
Walker, secretary of the Stoke and North Staffordshire branch of the Unite Community union, told DNS this week that he was “ashamed” that the money he pays in taxes is being used to support such a dishonest assessment system.
He has dealt with at least 30 cases over the last year in which a claimant with terminal cancer has been found ineligible for PIP, but has later been awarded the enhanced rates of the benefit (for both daily living and mobility) by an appeal tribunal.
In one case, a man with stage four lung cancer was assessed in his own home, and was awarded no points (a claimant needs at least eight just to qualify for the standard rate of PIP).
Walker had attended the assessment as a Unite Community volunteer, and witnessed the claimant using an oxygen supply and having to stop and breathe it in every few minutes.
But the assessor reported seeing “no signs of breathlessness”, marked “not applicable” in the respiratory section of the report, and said there was no need for a review of his case for at least another two years, even though he had three months to live.
The appeal tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the decision, and he was awarded the two enhanced rates of PIP. He died several weeks later.
In another case, a woman with a spinal tumour had to be brought to her appeal tribunal by the ambulance service, with paramedics wheeling her into the hearing.
Again, the tribunal took just five minutes to award her enhanced PIP rates for mobility and daily living.
A third case Walker has worked on saw a terminally-ill ex-miner with metastasized cancer denied any PIP following an assessment. Again, a tribunal took just five minutes to overturn the DWP decision and award him the highest rates of PIP.
It was Walker who persuaded Stoke-on-Trent City Council late last year to hold an inquiry into the PIP assessment system.
He had been trying to raise concerns about the dishonesty he was witnessing, but he said no-one had been paying any attention to what he was saying.
He said: “I was banging my head against a wall. Nobody was listening to me.”
But after he met with the council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee, and presented his evidence, the committee decided unanimously to launch an inquiry into his allegations.
The council’s review concluded last month that the PIP assessment process was “distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose”.
Walker told DNS this week that he could not understand the level of dishonesty he has been witnessing in the assessment reports he has read.
He said: “I look at the reports and I am thinking, ‘How can they write this? This can’t possibly be true.’
“For me personally as a tax-payer I am beyond ashamed that my money is being used in such a perverse way.
“I am ashamed of my own government treating the sick and terminally-ill in this way and using my money to do it, and private companies making a profit out of the terminally-ill and producing fictitious reports.
“Report after report is a work of fiction. It is 100 per cent dishonesty.”
Walker works as a welfare rights advisor for the disabled people’s organisation Disability Solutions West Midlands, but also voluntarily for Unite Community.
His Unite Community branch now plans to submit detailed evidence to an inquiry into the disability benefits assessment process being carried out by the Commons work and pensions select committee.
A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “Decisions for PIP are made based on all the information provided by the claimant, including any supporting information from their GP or medical specialist.
“We’re helping people with the most severe conditions to get the extra support that they need.
“This includes fast-tracking claims, and ensuring they can get the highest rates of benefit payments.
“Claims to PIP under the special rules for terminally-ill people are currently taking on average six working days*.
“As we’ve previously said, we do not accept that there is dishonesty among PIP assessors.”
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She added: “Since PIP was introduced, 2.4 million decisions have been made, and of these eight per cent have been appealed and four per cent have been overturned.
“In the vast majority of cases where a decision is overturned, further evidence has been provided.
“As you know, we constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible and, to date, there have been two independent reviews of PIP.”
A Capita spokeswoman said: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high quality and accurate reports in line with Department for Work and Pensions guidance.
“If someone has questions about the assessment service we have provided, they can contact us by phone, text phone, email or post.”
*For those not expected to live more than six months