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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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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Grim Tory benefits regime exposed in the words of this former disability assessor

‘A relentless conveyor belt’: Grim Tory benefits regime exposed in the words of this former disability assessor

A whistleblower says assessors have just 15 minutes to read claimants’ medical history before interviewing them

Department for Work and Pensions
Department for Work and Pensions

A former benefits assessor today exposes the grim world of the Tories’ “unfair” and “ethically questionable” disability regime.

Staff have just 15 minutes to read claimants’ medical history before interviewing them for vital Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the whistleblower said. And the process is such a “relentless conveyer belt” that they skip toilet and lunch breaks – just to get “10 seconds” back in the day.

PIP, worth £22 to £141 a week, is meant to be a fairer way for 1.6million disabled people meet everyday costs. But in a Mirror interview, the healthcare professional said they saw vulnerable people through “two worlds – the real world and the PIP world.”

Rigid and “uneven” rules meant some people who obviously needed help were denied the benefit, the assessor claimed. And some staff were reluctant to score claimants higher – because they could be “told to change” their decision by bosses.

“For staff it’s probably relentless, for claimants it’s probably unfair, and as a professional I think it just needs improving,” the expert told us.

Almost a THIRD of PIP disability assessments are ‘not up to scratch’

“I think the process was questionable from a clinical point of view. “If I got my code of ethics out, there were things I was having difficulty reasoning in my head.” Our source worked for a number of years for outsourcing giant Atos, which the government has paid more than £480million to assess people for PIP since 2013.

PIP is replacing the old Disability Living Allowance – but campaigners say assessments for the new benefit are unfit for purpose. Of 947,000 people moving from DLA to PIP, almost half (46%) had their payments downgraded or stopped.

Our source, who resigned amid concerns over the “unpleasant” system, told us the “intense” and “frustrating” daily routine for staff had an effect on claimants. They said: “You’re basically given four slots a day and those slots are fixed. You don’t organise your own diary.” That left 15 to 30 minutes to read claimants’ medical history before starting an assessment, the source said – if the centre was not overbooked that day.

Some claimants had just an application form and GP’s letter. But sometimes “you think great, I’ve got 15, 20, 80 bits – I’ve had 80 bits of evidence before – how am I going to read through that? “Atos won’t say ‘we give them 15 minutes or half an hour to read through’, they would just say ‘we’ll give them as long as they need’.

“But in reality, if I’ve got a 9am appointment, I know at 11am I’ve got somebody [else] coming in.” Our expert said appointments last 45 minutes to an hour, and guidance was to spend 105 minutes on each claimant’s case.

But if someone needed an interpreter or had complications, “booking times go out the window”. “I could have somebody come in with arthritis on their big toe and somebody come in with multiple mental health conditions,” the source said. “You generally get the same slot.”

The assessor claimed staff were so pressed for the time that they would skip lunch and toilet breaks. “You look for 10 seconds, anything you can grab, because you know you’re going to be pushed,” they added.

The second problem was the rigid criteria to decide if people were disabled enough. “We’ll have two worlds – there’s the real world and the PIP world,” the assessor said. “In the real world, you think right, I know they will find it difficult to get dressed.

“But because the definitions are so specific, it’s sometimes difficult to award them a higher level.” Shocking blunders in the past have led to questions over assessors’ competence. One claimant with no dog who couldn’t walk was told they regularly walked their dog. Another was asked: “When did you catch Down’s syndrome?”

Our source insisted staff were highly-trained as nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists or occupational therapists, with pay starting around £30,000. Instead the assessor blamed the scoring system – and audits that check it’s being followed.

Atos assessors give people ‘points’ for everyday tasks they can’t do. If someone scores below eight, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denies them the benefit. But assessors can have their reports “amended” by superiors – and if it happens too often, they are put on a performance review.

The assessor agreed it was right to check reports but said the process was “uneven”. “It goes both ways,” our source said. “I’ve had reports back where auditors have told me to score higher. But I’ve also had reports where they’ve told me to score lower.

“What I’ve found is, more often than not, it’s more difficult to score people higher. I think it’s uneven.” Our source added: “You’re getting this stuff sent back and you’re thinking God, I really know this person needs assistance. No way they can do it.

“And it will be sent back and an auditor will basically be telling you ‘no, that’s not the case’. “What they’ll do is they’ll pick some other evidence in the report that supports their point. “In my opinion that evidence is sometimes weaker. But you’re essentially told to change it.” They said it took a toll on staff saying: “It’s led to so many colleagues leaving. On a daily basis it drives people nuts.”

A spokesman for Atos’ PIP arm Independent Assessment Services said: “We listen carefully to all feedback provided by those being assessed, and continually adjust our service to help deliver an enhanced experience for all involved. “Our Health Professionals (HPs) are able to take as long as they need to understand a claimant’s health condition or disability.

“All assessments are conducted in accordance with DWP policy, and there is no incentive or encouragement given to HPs to conduct an assessment in any way that would lead to a certain outcome.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Assessments work for the majority of people, with 87% of PIPclaimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience. “But one person’s poor experience of PIP is one too many, and we’re committed to continuously improving the process for claimants.

“We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers, and we work closely with them to ensure that all claimants receive objective, accurate and high quality assessments.”

“The stress of it froze me to the spot and I cried”

Janet Roberts burst into tears when she opened the letter that slashed her benefits in 2016. The gran-of-two had been unable to work for four years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 44.

But after an hour-long assessment for PIP at her St Albans home, her mobility payments were cut – from the full rate under the old DLA benefit to zero. Janet faced losing her adapted Motability car on her 30th wedding anniversary to husband Aubrey, 76.

But to her relief a DWP internal appeal restored her benefits with days to spare. The former NHS microbiologist, now 57, told the Mirror: “I just couldn’t believe it. “The stress of it froze me to the spot and I cried, because it was going to make such a difference to my quality of life.

pipx

“I had been living with this condition for 10 years. It is a rotten condition that greatly takes away all sorts of bits of your body and relationships. “To decide it was nothing felt like a real insult.”

Janet claimed the assessment was “not fit for purpose” because it didn’t account properly for her condition changing from one hour to the next. She said: “They ask how far you can walk. When my medication’s working I can walk reasonably far – but there’s six or seven times a day when I basically can’t move.” She added: “I had taken my medication at the right time so I was in my optimum physical state when I was there. “I said ‘if you wait ten minutes you will see me in the off state’ but the reply was ‘I don’t need to’.”

PIP is paid in two parts, ‘mobility’ and ‘daily living’, and following her appeal Janet now gets both. But she feared she had lost her mobility payments for around four months while the appeal went through. Thousands wait longer because they appeal to an independent tribunal.

Janet helped charity Parkinson’s UK hand a 33,000-strong petition to Downing Street last month calling for reform to the assessment process. She said the system can be “brutal”, adding: “There needs to be a certain amount of individualism.

“It’s almost like disabled people sometimes are [treated] like a different species – but we’re human beings with real struggles.”

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Tories ‘spends £700,000’ making people with Parkinson’s be repeatedly assessed for PIP

Tory government ‘spends £700,000’ making people with Parkinson’s be repeatedly assessed for their benefits

Woman in wheelchair waiting at station platform
Figures uncovered by Parkinson’s UK show around 4,000 people with the degenerative condition have to undergo reassessments to keep claiming PIP

Disability benefits rigged against people with Parkinson’s, says charity

The charity put pressure on Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey over the figures

The Government is spending more than £700,000 reassessing people with the most severe cases of Parkinson’s for disability benefits, even though they will never get any better, campaigners have claimed.

Charity Parkinson’s UK said the figures showed the assessments process for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) “is rigging the game against people with Parkinson’s”. Figures uncovered by the charity show 8,690 people with Parkinson’s are claiming the highest rate of at least one element of PIP, which is awarded to those with the most severe conditions. However, of these just 54% have been given to indefinite awards, with the rest having to undergo reassessments to keep claiming PIP.

The Department for Work and Pensions says more people with Parkinson’s now get the highest level of support and assessments help ensure claimants get the right support.

Phil Reynolds, campaigns adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “We’ve been warning for years that the PIP assessment is a gamble for people with Parkinson’s and these figures prove it. “Even though they have a condition that will only get worse and have qualified for the highest level of support under PIP, the DWP is adding insult to injury by forcing around half of people with Parkinson’s to face stressful and unnecessary reassessments.”

Disability benefits rigged against people with Parkinson’s

The figures, uncovered through a written parliamentary question, show that around a third of people with Parkinson’s who have enhanced rate awards have to undergo reassessments every one to three years. This is despite the fact Parkinson’s is a degenerative condition and they will not be able to score any higher than their current award.

The National Audit Office in 2014 found a reassessment costs the DWP £182 in admin costs.

This means it will cost the DWP £728,000 to reassess everyone with Parkinson’s that’s been given a finite award in at least one category, according to the charity’s analysis.

“With a quarter of people with Parkinson’s losing some or all of the support they’ve had for years, and now half being denied permanent awards, it’s clear PIP is rigging the game against people with Parkinson’s,” Mr Reynolds said.

“The Government needs to get a grip on PIP by making the assessment fit for purpose and investigating why people with worsening conditions are being hauled in for pointless reassessments time and again.”

Two years ago, the NAO found that the Government was spending more money assessing whether people are fit to work than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill. 

Some 70% of people with Parkinson’s who were previously on Disability Living Allowance are now receiving the highest rates of PIP, compared to 40% when PIP was introduced.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people, including those with Parkinson’s, get the support they’re entitled to. [YEAH SURE]

“Assessments ensure that people get the right level of support as their condition changes, including those with degenerative conditions who could miss out on getting more support if they aren’t reassessed. “Over half of claimants with Parkinson’s are now getting the highest level of support under PIP – much more than under DLA.

“But we know there’s more to do, and we’re currently working with organisations such as Parkinson’s UK to ensure that PIP supports those with severe conditions in the best possible way.”

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Man who can ‘feel his brain’ after losing quarter of his skull in horror crash ‘refused disability benefits’

Umar Hussain, 24, was in a coma for a week after he suffered severe spinal and head injuries and told how doctors gave him just a 10% chance of survival

A young man who lost a quarter of his skull when his Mini collided with a tree claims he has been refused benefits because he is ‘not disabled enough’. Umar Hussain was in a coma for a week after he suffered severe spinal and head injuries and told how doctors gave him just a 10% chance of survival.

The 24-year-old was badly hurt when his Mini smashed into a tree in April last year with the impact so heavy the engine was ripped from the car. The subsequent injuries were so severe that Umar, from Great Barr, Birmingham, had a quarter of his skull removed to relieve pressure, which has left him able to ‘feel his brain’.

He is currently waiting for a replacement plate for his skull before he can fully recover, but says his operation has been stalled several times, the Birmingham Mail reports.

And in another blow, the former warehouse workers claims he was refused disability benefits following a health assessment. Umar said: “You can literally feel my brain and the edges of my skull where it’s been cut off. “The doctors said I had a 10% chance of making it through the night.”

Umar has tried to claim disability benefits after making a slow recovery from the accident, but was turned down by assessors.

“They advised me that for my situation PIP [Personal Independence Payments] would be the right thing to do,” said Umar. “The assessor asked me if I could twist round and touch my toes.

“She could see how much of a struggle it was – I was wearing a back brace at the time. “They can clearly see there are marks all over my face and there’s a big dent in my head. “I can’t walk more than ten minutes, it was difficult for me to even sit down in the chair.

Despite Umar’s difficulties, he says he was refused PIP. “They thought that because I can plan routes and walk for short distances then I’m OK,” he said. “I can walk for ten minutes but I can’t do much in that time.

“I’ve been getting no income, I’ve had to live off family, which has put me in an even more depressed state. “I’m 24 years old and I have to rely on my mum and dad and girlfriend for money, and that’s killing my pride inside.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. [PMSL]

“PIP considers how impairments affect a person’s ability to live an independent life, rather than labelling individuals on the basis of a condition. “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist. [YEAH RIGHT]

“Anyone who is unhappy with a decision can appeal.”

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Labour slam ‘total failure’ of PIP and ESA benefit assessments

Ministry of Justice statistics reveal that 69% of PIP and ESA decisions were over-turned at Tribunal in favour of claimants between October to December 2017.

BLACK TRIANGLE

New figures released today by the Ministry for Justice (MoJ) reveal that the proportion of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) decisions over-turned in favour of claimants have increased yet again. The figures show that 69% of PIP and ESA decisions were over-turned at Tribunal between October to December 2017, up from 68% in the previous quarter.

ESA and PIP accounted for the majority of cases heard by SSCS Tribunals (Social Security and Child Support), with 39% and 45% of total disposals respectively. In October to December 2017, 52,297 cases were heard by the SSCS, up 13% when compared to the same period in 2016.

Of the disposals made by the SSCS Tribunal, 43,784 (84%) were cleared at hearing, and of these, 65% were found in favour of the customer (up from 63% on the same period of 2016/17). This overturn rate varied by benefit type, with ESA and PIP having 69%, Disability Living Allowance 61% and Job Seekers Allowance having 43% in favour of the claimant.

PIP has driven the overall increase in the overturn rate, where it has increased four percentage points on October to December 2016. There were 117,189 SSCS cases outstanding at the end of December 2017, up 47% compared to the same period in 2016. This was driven by a larger number of appeal receipts than disposals in recent periods prior to 2017/18 Q3.

Of those cases disposed of by SSCS in October to December 2017, the average waiting time was 24 weeks, 8 weeks more than the same period in 2016. Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said “it is clear the assessment process is a total failure and not fit for purpose”.

She continued: “We know from the recent Work and Pensions Select Committee’s damning report that these assessments cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for the thousands who have been denied support unfairly, as well as wasting public money by sending so many decisions back to the courts.

“The Government is failing sick and disabled people by knowingly allowing this injustice to continue. The Tories must act on the Select Committee’s recommendations immediately. “Labour will scrap these punitive assessments and replace them with a holistic, person-centred approach.”

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Today’s figures show that despite dire warnings, these assessments continue to fail disabled people.

“The Government needs to get a grip on this situation, as both PIP and ESA appeals are still being won at alarmingly high rates.

“Disabled people rely on these financial lifelines to live independently and be part of their community. “Without urgent action, vast numbers will continue to be denied this support unfairly.

“The assessments for PIP and ESA must be overhauled to iron out the mistrust, lack of transparency and routine inaccuracies which disabled people report on a weekly basis.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. [RTFL]

“Since PIP was introduced more than 2.9 million decisions have been made, and of these 8% have been appealed and 4% have been overturned. “In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more evidence.”

Disclaimer: The statistics quoted above have been taken directly from the MoJ’s report.

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Victories for people appealing PIP reaches the highest rate ever

Victories for people appealing for disability benefit reach their highest rate ever. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments have been branded a “total failure” as 69% of people appealing them at a tribunal now win their case

Record rates of people are winning appeals for Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

The victory rate for people appealing for disability benefit has reached its highest ever. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments have been branded a “total failure” as 69% of people appealing them at a tribunal now win their case.

That is the highest percentage success rate ever recorded since the benefit launched in 2013. PIP, worth £22 to £141 a week, is replacing the old Disability Living Allowance as a fairer way for 1.6million people to meet everyday costs.

But campaigners argue assessments for the new benefit are unfit for purpose. Of 947,000 people moving from DLA to PIP, almost half (46%) had their payments downgraded or stopped.

Today’s figures show that between October and December 2017, 20,144 benefit tribunals were completed – and 13,881 ended in victory for the claimant.

Separately 69% of appeals for sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) also ended in victory in the three-month period, just short of a record.

The actual number of PIP cases, and PIP victories, were both slightly lower than in the first six months of 2017. However, the percentage victory rate was a record.

In total 190,184 PIP appeals have gone through the system since the benefit launched – of which 121,671 (64%) resulted in victory for the claimant. But hundreds of thousands more people have been denied benefits without showing up in the figures.

That is because people who are turned down for PIP must first launch an internal appeal called a “mandatory reconsideration”, for which the success rate is much lower.

Only once they are denied a reconsideration by the DWP can they move on to an independent tribunal.

190,184 PIP appeals have gone through the system – and 64% resulted in victory

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “It is clear the assessment process is a total failure and not fit for purpose. “The Government is failing sick and disabled people by knowingly allowing this injustice to continue.”

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope, said: “Today’s figures show that despite dire warnings, these assessments continue to fail disabled people.

“The assessments for PIP and ESA must be overhauled to iron out the mistrust, lack of transparency and routine inaccuracies which disabled people report on a weekly basis.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to.a

Since PIP was introduced more than 2.9 million decisions have been made, and of these 8% have been appealed and 4% have been overturned. In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more evidence.”

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