30,000 mentally ill will spend Christmas waiting for a benefits appeal

Some will spend the festive period missing out on more than £100 a week

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke

Around 30,000 mentally ill people will spend Christmas waiting for a benefits appeal tribunal, campaigners said today.

Some will spend the festive period missing out on more than £100 a week, according to new analysis of Government figures by Rethink Mental Illness.

The majority of decisions taken to appeal tribunals are overturned.

The charity estimates more than 15,000 people with mental illness will be waiting for a tribunal hearing to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Almost 14,000 will be waiting for a similar hearing over Personal Independence Payment (PIP), according to its analysis.

Around two thirds of appeals for ESA and PIP see the decision overturned in the claimant’s favour in 2016/17, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions says a small fraction of claims are appealed and most are overturned because claimants submit new evidence.

Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Christmas is a time to celebrate, but tens of thousands of people with mental illness will be spending it without the money that they should be entitled to, trapped in a long and stressful appeals process.

“The money from these benefits can be a lifeline. It keeps food in the fridge, bills paid, and allows people to leave the house and be part of their community.

“The fact that two thirds of these decisions will be successfully overturned reflects a system that cannot accurately assess and manage mental illness.

“Thousands of people go through a lengthy, stressful process that can wreak havoc with their mental health, only to come out with an incorrect decision that takes four months to appeal.”

Rethink Mental Illness says many awaiting a tribunal on Christmas Day will have been waiting since the summer, with average waiting times for tribunal decisions reaching 18 weeks earlier this year.

The analysis coincides with a major new report from the charity, which found that 38% of claimants felt that delays in decisions led to a deterioration in their mental health.

Some 19% had to take higher doses of medication in order to cope with the increased stress.

One person told the charity they were left waiting nine months to get to the tribunal stage.

“We need a fundamental overhaul of how mental heath is assessed,” Mr Dow said.

“The Government has let too many opportunities pass by and if it is really serious about creating a better society for people with mental health this has to be a priority.”

The charity is calling for an overhaul of the assessment process for both PIP and ESA, and for those with the most severe mental health conditions to be exempt from face-to-face assessments.

It has also called for all assessors and DWP decision makers to be appropriately trained in mental health, with previous concern such conditions were being assessed by physiotherapists.

Some 524,000 people claiming PIP have a psychiatric disorder as their main condition – around a third of all claimants.

Around half those claiming ESA do so due to mental and behavioural disorder.

Last month Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, said the quality of evidence provided by the DWP in benefits cases was so poor it would be “wholly inadmissible” in any other court.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Assessments are an important part of PIP and ESA to ensure that people get the right level of support.

“Only a small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal – just 4% of PIP and 4% of ESA.

“However, we continuously review our processes to ensure they’re working in the best way possible, including ending ESA reassessments for people with the most severe conditions.”

Ministers say that PIP looks specifically at how someone’s life is affected by mental health, unlike the old system which did not sufficiently recognise mental health problems.

There are now more people with a mental health condition receiving the higher rates of both PIP components.

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Mum with epilepsy fighting for benefits is branded a ‘liar’

Pauline with her mum, Roseann. Photo by George Munro.

A Greenock mum who has severe epilepsy which causes her to slip into unconsciousness and suffer memory blanks has been branded a ‘liar’ by a court tribunal.

Devastated Pauline Wotherspoon, 42, went to the panel to fight a decision by benefit bosses to deny her lifeline disability benefits.

But after pleading with the three members at a hearing in Greenock, she was sent a damning judgement accusing her of being ‘untruthful and unreliable’, ‘lacking credibility’ and guilty of ‘exaggeration’.

Pauline was diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy when she was seven, has faced a battle with eating disorder bulimia since she was a teenager and has been suicidal in the past.

But despite her complex medical history she has now had her disability benefit axed.

The mum-of-two, from Cawdor Crescent, told the Clydebank Post: “It is not even the money. It is the fact that they are calling me a liar. It is such a cruel process. I tried to answer as best I could but they have turned everything against me.

“They are saying that what has happened to me isn’t real.

“I have been suicidal because no-one would want this life. It is no life at all but I need to cope with it every day.”

Pauline, who lives with her husband Thomas, 59, and her son Kyle, 13, suffers from at least one seizure a week which leave her unable to go out on her own.

She said: “After a seizure I don’t even remember who my husband or my children are.

“I have lost count of the amount of burns or injuries I have from taking seizures over the years.

“But unless it is a continuous seizure I no longer go to hospital.

“There is no point, they can’t do anything other than put you on a bed and I can do that at home. Most epileptics don’t go to hospitals.

“I am in A&E taking up a bed that could be used for someone with a heart attack or a stroke.

“I take up to eight tablets every morning before I even start my day but my epilepsy can be triggered in many ways.”

As a teenager Pauline developed an eating disorder as a result of cruel comments at school and has other mental health illnesses.

Pauline, whose older daughter Natalie, 27, has moved out, had been claiming disability living allowance for the last 27 years, which amounted to about £73 per week until it was replaced by personal independent payments (PIP).

The benefit helps with the extra costs caused by disability or ill health.

Pauline applied for PIP but was refused by the Department for Work and Pensions.

She appealed their decision to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, going before a panel on October 11.

During the hearing she was quizzed on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities such as cooking and asked whether she had to have someone with her at all times.

The panel refused her appeal, ruling that there was a lack of evidence for her seizures, adding that they ‘weren’t even once a week’.

They also dismissed her bulimia, stating that she was of average build and showed no signs of wasting.

The judgement also said: “We considered your evidence to be exaggerated and untruthful.”

They said that they accepted that she receives medication for epilepsy and other medical difficulties, but labelled her an ‘unreliable’ witness.

Her mum Roseann Collins, aged 66, said: “It was a degrading experience and it made me so angry to see my daughter go through that, especially after everything she has been through.

“It was heartbreaking to be in there with her. When she was younger they told me there was no point in keeping on phoning an ambulance because they couldn’t do anything for epilepsy and now that’s been used against her.

“My daughter needs someone looking after her every single day. Sometimes she doesn’t care if she lives or dies.”

Pauline is now taking her case to a further appeal with the Upper Tribunal.

She added: “I want to fight this and speak out for all the other epileptics out there.”

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PIP assessment companies admit ‘unacceptable’ failings on quality of reports

The two outsourcing companies paid hundreds of millions of pounds to carry out disability benefit assessments have never met contractual quality standards on the reports their staff write for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), they have told MPs.

Capita and Atos began delivering assessments for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance – in April 2013, but neither of them have ever met the standards laid down in their contracts for the reports produced by their assessors.

Executives from the two companies (picturedwere giving evidence to MPs on the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) as part of its inquiry into disability benefit assessments.

Atos and Capita are set to be paid more than £700 million between them over the first five years of their contracts to assess PIP claimants in England, Scotland and Wales.

But the committee heard that, at one stage, 60 per cent of assessment reports being completed by Capita healthcare professionals and sent to DWP were judged to be of an “unacceptable” standard.

And at one point, about 30 per cent of Atos assessment reports completed in Scotland and the north of England were being judged unacceptably poor.

Currently – despite a DWP target that no more than three per cent of reports should be found “unacceptable” – nearly seven per cent of Capita reports are still being graded as unacceptable by DWP.

Simon Freeman, managing director of Capita’s PIP contract, said the 60 per cent figure had been “absolutely unacceptable”, and the company had subsequently improved recruitment and training and the support it provided to assessors.

But he accepted that the rate had risen again in the last few months, which again was “not acceptable”.

Atos admitted that previously 30 per cent of reports had been found “unacceptable”, while its current rate was “about five or six per cent”.

David Haley, chief executive of Atos’s PIP contract, said its performance at the start of the contract had been “completely unacceptable”.

Both Capita and Atos said they had never met the three per cent target since they started carrying out assessments more than four years ago.

Despite these repeated failings, Haley and Freeman said they had never been called in to discuss the problem with successive work and pensions secretaries.

Tory MP Alex Burghart said the committee had been given “multiple examples of reports that contain basic factual inaccuracies”, and asked Capita and Atos if they were familiar with that kind of “mistake”.

Freeman said he was aware of cases “where people have questioned the content”.

Labour MP Neil Coyle asked whether fining assessors who made mistakes or omitted important information from their reports could help improve the accuracy of those assessments.

Dr Barrie McKillop, clinical director for the Atos PIP contract, said in reply that all his assessors were registered with their professional regulatory bodies, and complaints about their actions were referred to those organisations if information had been “wrongly represented” in the reports.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, asked him how many assessors lose their status as healthcare professionals with these regulatory bodies “because their work is just so hopeless”.

But neither McKillop nor his Capita colleagues were able to tell the committee how often regulatory bodies had sanctioned their healthcare professionals, but promised to provide that information in writing.

Disability News Service (DNS) has heard repeatedly from disabled claimants angry at the failure of those regulatory bodies – particularly the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health and Care Professions Council – to act when presented with evidence of dishonest assessment reports by Capita and Atos staff.

Field said at the end of their evidence that he had found the session “distressing”.

DNS has been carrying out a year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, and revealed in October that complaints about the process rose by nearly 900 per cent last year.

In the 12 months since its investigation began, DNS has heard from more than 250 PIP claimants who say their assessment reports were dishonest.

The committee’s inquiry has produced more online evidence from the public than any other investigation ever held by a House of Commons select committee, with more than 3,200 pieces of written evidence in total.

The committee was also told that both Atos and Capita employed only two doctors each within their PIP operations, with their assessments instead carried out by nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

The committee later heard from executives from Maximus, which carries out the work capability assessment (WCA) on behalf of DWP.

They also admitted that they had never met their target for producing assessment reports of an acceptable standard, in the two-and-a-half years since taking over the WCA contract from Atos.

The latest figures show that more than seven per cent of all Maximus assessment reports are judged to be of an unacceptable standard, the committee heard, against a target of five per cent.

Leslie Wolfe, general manager for Maximus in the UK, said it was “not acceptable” that the company had never met the government’s target.

Dr Paul Williams, the WCA programme director for Maximus, said the company was due to carry out about one million WCAs this year, but would only perform about 8,000 to 9,000 home assessments.

Labour MP Ruth George told him and Wolfe that one of her constituents had been denied a home assessment, despite sending a letter from his GP telling Maximus that he had a fractured vertebra, and so should not be forced to attend an assessment centre.

Williams told George that he would be “really quite cross” if he heard that his staff had refused to carry out a home assessment in such circumstances.

George said she had been forced to intervene on Monday to prevent her constituent having to attend the assessment centre.

Williams claimed that only six ESA claimants in every 1,000 lodge complaints with Maximus, and only about three of those relate to the assessments themselves.

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The “two-child limit” for welfare claimants is brutal and moralistic. It must be scrapped

It’s not the government’s place to dictate how many children lower income families can have.

In recent years, public service employees have been hit hard by the decisions of the Conservative government. Yet few of its policies have been as divisive or as dangerous as the so-called “two-child limit”. 

The “two-child limit” restricts parents’ tax credits applications to two children. Any family that has a third child born on or after 6 April 2017 cannot claim tax credits for that baby or any subsequent children.

On Monday I spoke at an event, organised by UNISON in the House of Commons, to draw attention to this vital issue. Our campaign against the measure has been driven by the passion of our President Margaret McKee to tackle this injustice.

It’s a campaign that chimes with the values of our union and with our role as a union of more than a million women.

The two-child limit is a brutal attack on families, on parents, on children and in particular, on those who can least afford it.

It is the worst kind of government policy – moralistic, judgemental and ineffective – and it will cost many families around £2,800 a year if they have a third child and £5,600 if they have a fourth. 

These are families already struggling to make ends meet, in a difficult economic climate, after years of cuts and austerity. Especially those who work in our public services, who face the double whammy of the pay cap coupled with spiralling inflation.

The two-child limit comes on top of frozen child benefit, a four year freeze on in-work benefits and cuts to work allowances.

This was a plan so bad – so misconceived – that at first, the government didn’t even support it. Backbench MP Nadhim Zahawi floated the idea four years ago, yet Downing Street said at the time that this wasn’t government policy and it was not supported by the Prime Minister.

After the 2015 election the proposal went straight into the Budget – a proposal for which there was no mandate and no reasonable justification. And that proposal, now government policy, is at its core immoral.

The limit will increase child poverty and penalise children for the order of their birth. Worse than that, it’s governed by an arbitrary process, with when children are born and how many siblings they have, mattering more than need.

It’s not the government’s place to dictate how many children lower income families can have. And then, of course, there’s another brutal reality that many women face too.

It is well-known and well-documented that abusers often use pregnancy, poverty and financial dependence as means of establishing control over their victims. This policy will simply enforce and facilitate that control.

One of the great injustices in our society is that many women do not have control over the number of children they have. Some face domestic violence, living with a violent partner or in fear of violence.

Some are victims of sexual coercion, sexual assault and other forms of abuse. Others are forbidden from accessing or using contraception. And some are raped.

This has created one of the most disturbing aspects of this legislation – what’s known as the “rape clause”.

The government states that there is an exception to the two-child limit, and that’s where a child is “conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act (including rape) or when you were in a controlling or coercive relationship”. It requires proof of that crime.

That simply places a further, dreadful burden on women in poverty, who must now go to the government and prove they were raped, abused or otherwise coerced in order to avoid further financial hardship.

This is one of the most dreadful ideas I have ever heard from this government.

It would be far better and far more preferable to scrap the two-child limit altogether. UNISON’s campaign will continue to fight for that in the weeks and months ahead – both because of the impact of this pernicious legislation on UNISON members, and because it is the right thing to do.

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Disabled benefits shake-up: “How will woman who can’t walk, cook or read and write cope?”

 VULNERABLE people with learning disabilities and mental health problems are suffering in silence because of a controversial benefits shake-up says a concerned volunteer.

David Matthews (pictured) says the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in favour of the Personal Independence Payment scheme (PIP) is heaping pressure on the city’s most vulnerable people in the run up to Christmas.

The benefit case worker at Worcester CAB and WHABAC and his colleagues are doing all they can to help after some clients received a score of ‘zero’ in the PIP assessment despite having a complex range of physical problems, learning disabilities and mental health problems which he says should make them eligible for the benefit.

Under the system, which is being introduced nationwide in phases, a health professional assesses a person’s eligibility for PIP against 10 key ‘daily living’ criteria and against a ‘mobility’ checklist.

Criteria include whether the person is able to prepare food, manage and monitor their health condition, wash themselves, cook, go to the toilet, dress and undress, communicate, read and write and manage money.

Thousands with mental illness awaiting benefits tribunal at Christmas

If the claimant is aged between 16 and 64 they could get between £22 and £141.10 a week by claiming PIP.

The points-based assessment is supposed to gauge a person’s needs and has nothing to do with their means. To be entitled to the standard PIP rate they must score eight points, 12 points for the higher rate.

For example someone would score 10 points if they needed another person to place food in their mouth and eight points if they needed help with incontinence problems.

But in one case Mr Matthews has been helping a female client with physical and mental health problems and learning disabilities who was given a PIP score of zero, one of a series of such cases he is now dealing with.

He says she cannot walk unaided, cook for herself, read or write or complete practical tasks like using a cash machine.

The woman suffers from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, incontinence, arthritis, asthma and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Her physical problems are so pronounced she needs either two crutches or a push trolley to move around and also has a severely fractured leg which requires a calliper.

However, after her PIP assessment in November she lost her previous entitlement to more than £113 a week in benefits which she previously received as part of her DLA.

Her learning disability has rendered her unable to appreciate the gravity of the situation or the impact the change will have on her quality of life.

Mr Matthews is so concerned he has asked the Department for Work and Pensions to reconsider the case but has yet to receive a response.

He said: “I feel angry the system is not recognising people with learning disabilities. I’m surprised they have got away with it.

“This has caused real hardship. There are more people suffering in silence. It’s disgraceful.

“It’s terrible. She doesn’t understand money. She doesn’t understand how serious the situation is.”

Mr Matthews said people with learning disabilities often did not understand the gravity of the changes and struggled to articulate their needs while being assessed.

One of the phrases under the PIP ‘mobility activities’ (planning and following journeys) refers to the effect on activity caused by factors ‘other than psychological distress’, a phrase repeated three times in this section alone.

But Mr Matthews argues that psychological distress can be a factor in reducing mobility, for example in the case of someone who cannot go outside unaccompanied because they suffer panic attacks.

Remonia Blackwood, campaign research supervisor at Worcester CAB, said some PIP assessments were completed in half an hour which she does not feel is long enough to assess someone’s needs.

The caseload in Worcester continues to increase as the phased implementation of PIP accelerates

“People who feel they can’t cope can come to us and we will try to help them” said Mr Matthews.

A [LYING] DWP [BULLSHIT] spokesperson said: “PIP looks specifically at how someone’s life is affected by mental health, unlike the old system which did not sufficiently recognise mental health problems.

“In fact, there are now more people with a mental health condition receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than their DLA equivalents, and people with mental health conditions can still qualify for the highest rate of mobility under PIP.” ’

Decisions for PIP are based on all the information provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist, and anyone can appeal the decision.

Last year the DWP said a record £11.6 billion was spent on mental health, and by 2020 there will be another £1 billion a year on top of that.

The say the health professionals carrying out PIP assessments have training in multiple and complex conditions, including mental health.

In addition, the healthcare providers have Mental Health Champions who are experienced professionals with direct and relevant work experience of helping patients with mental health problems.

In total 66 per cent of people with mental health conditions are on the enhanced rate of Daily Living and 30 per cent are on the enhanced rate of Mobility.

This compares with 22 per cent on the higher rate of care and 10 per cent on the higher rate of Mobility under DLA.

The DWP says PIP ‘ensures that mental health conditions are given the same recognition as physical ones’.

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ANOTHER DWP ATROCITY: Cancer patient died before he was able to appeal a DWP ruling that he was ‘fit to work’

Cancer patient died before he was able to appeal a Department for Work and Pensions ruling that he was ‘fit to work’

Chloe Balderson and Rachel Stockley, Phillip Balderson's daughter and partnerA CANCER patient died before he was able to appeal a DWP ruling that he was fit to work.His heartbroken family will now challenge that decision at a tribunal.Phillip Balderso

A CANCER patient died before he was able to appeal a DWP ruling that he was fit to work. His heartbroken family will now challenge that decision at a tribunal.

 A CANCER patient died before he was able to appeal a Department for Work and Pensions ruling that he was ‘fit to work’.

His heartbroken family will now challenge that decision at a tribunal.

Phillip Balderson, 46, from Burnley had worked at a Lake District hotel, but was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in 2013.

He also struggled with psoriatic arthritis, anxiety, OCD and a number of mental health problems.

Despite his difficulties the DWP summoned him to a health assessment in February 2017 and ruled he was no longer eligible for Employment Support Allowance.

They told him he had to look for work.

Mr Balderson began appealing the decision but sadly died on June 5 before he could see the process through.

His daughter Chloe Balderson, 23, said: “He had terminal cancer and they were trying to send him to work. The people at the job centre were disgusted.”

ALSO SEE Heartbroken family of terminally ill man told he was ‘fit for work’ taking DWP to court

The family, supported by Citizens Advice in Windermere, will be attending a work capability appeal to overturn the decision at South Cumbria Magistrates’ Court, in Barrow, on Thursday, December 14.

If it rules in their favour, any benefit payments will go towards the funeral.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Balderson’s family at this time.

“We are contacting Mr Balderson next of kin to ensure they’re paid any benefits owed at the time of his death.

“The amount paid will be dependent on the result of the Work Capability appeal that is currently at tribunal.”

Mr Balderson’s partner Rachel Stockley, 49, said:” He was getting Employment Support Allowance, that was all fine, but then his dad died and his mental health got worse. Phillip just went downhill from there.

“Then he got a letter to say he had to go for an assessment and he was worried.

“He was being judged by someone who was meeting him for the first time and that was that.

“He was complaining about pains in his liver before he had to go to his job centre appointment, and got worse before his assessment.

“I’m doing this for Phillip really because he was gutted.

“I think it’s disgusting, it’s terrible the way they treat people.”

The family, who live at Maychells Orchard in Allithwaite, Cumbria, have suffered a number of setbacks as Miss Stockley was also diagnosed with cancer back in 2010.

She said her partner of 25 years never talked about his diagnosed and was ‘frightened’ by it.

Miss Stockley said: “He loved the quiet and loved walking, even when he was really ill we’d take him driving and he’d fall asleep in the car.

“The authorities need to show more concern towards people’s needs and not judge them by how they look but you see it all the time.

“You just can’t prepare yourself for it, even though you know it’s going to happen it’s no different from someone dying suddenly.”

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Private firms that run Tory government’s disability benefit tests only employ FOUR doctors between them

Atos and Capita admitted the figure after a torrent of complaints about the tests – for which they have earned more than £500million since 2013

Atos and Capita admitted the figure after a torrent of complaints about the tests – for which they have earned more than £500million since they began in 2013.

MPs grilled bosses from both firms today after more than 90,000 people overturned assessments that said they were not disabled enough for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

One MP, Alex Burghart, warned test reports had “basic factual errors” including missing medical information and a “non-existent dog”.

The chiefs admitted neither Atos nor Capita have ever met their quality control target – with 6.4% of PIP tests still deemed “unacceptable”.

The bosses of Atos and Capita appearing before the Commons committee today

Capita’s chief medical officer Dr Ian Gargan confessed he was just one of two doctors at the firm’s PIP division, which has 1,500 staff.

He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee: “Two thirds of our professionals have a nursing background and the remainder are from occupational therapy, physiotherapy and paramedicine.”

Dr Barrie McKillop, clinical director of Atos’ PIP division, admitted they too only had two doctors on the staff.

“75% of our health professionals are nurses and the balance are either paramedics, occupational therapists or physiotherapists,” he insisted.

Dr Gargan admitted Capita does not use a “specific specialist” in a person’s health condition to decide if they should get benefits.

Instead benefit assessors have general training and are overseen by more senior staff.

At Capita there is one “clinical coach” for every 15 assessors, while Atos has one “clinical manager” for every 12 assessors.

More than 90,000 people have won appeals against tests for the benefit PIP (Image: Rex Features)

The committee heard the doctors do quality control work to ensure lessons are learned when tests go wrong.

But committee chairman Frank Field hit out at the firms for not hiring more fully-trained doctors.

“You’ve got two doctors each, mega workload – maybe there’s a lot of doctors out there who would long for some part-time work,” he said.

“You haven’t sought them out to raise your game, have you?”

Dr McKillop insisted Atos’ current model “is a strong one” and people “bring clinical experience in different areas”.

He also said he would welcome a scheme that let benefit claimants have their tests recorded to ensure they are fair.

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