Kay Birch, CEO of Wealden Citizens Advice who is based in Uckfield

MPs called to act on ‘shocking’ disability benefits report

“Truly shocking” examples of how the disability benefits system is “broken” across East Sussex have been published this week.

More and more people are needing to claim food parcels for a greater number of times than the three usually allowed.

Citizens Advice in East Sussex has published a report on the experiences of its clients claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – benefits aimed at supporting those living with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

The news comes less than two months since UckfieldNews.com revealed how vital Citizens Advice was to helping the most vulnerable people in the Uckfield area.

One person from the Uckfield area became so frustrated with the process that he gave up appealing, although it was believed he had a good case.

Here’s his story

The local man waited two months for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to reject his claim for PIP.

Wealden Citizens Advice  helped him apply for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision, the compulsory first stage in any appeal.

The DWP took another six months to reject this request.

In all this time the client had to rely on food parcels and became isolated from friends and family because he no longer had the bus pass to which his previous benefit had ‘passported’ him.

Citizens Advice then helped him submit a full appeal.

He finally received a payment (including more than £2,000 in backdating) 15 months after his first application.

For this client, the story got worse.

Only six months later he had to start the renewal process for PIP all over again.

Again, the DWP took three months to deal with his claim, during which period payment of the benefit expired, so the client was again left living on a significantly reduced income.

The DWP decision reduced his level of benefit, leaving the client back on the treadmill of an appeal.

When the first stage mandatory reconsideration of the decision was again rejected, the client gave up, worn down by the process, even though Citizens Advice think he has a strong case to proceed to full appeal.

System ‘not fit for purpose’

Wealden Citizens Advice is seeing increasing numbers of clients relying on more than the usual three food parcel maximum because their claim is taking so long to resolve, with these delays also meaning clients are getting into debt on essentials including rent and fuel.

“Our clients’ experience shows a system that is simply not fit for purpose – medical assessment processes that can humiliate and prejudge, delays of over a year in resolving claims and processes that seem almost designed to make applicants give up,” the bureau said.

“In short, when a claim for PIP or ESA goes wrong, the time it takes to resolve it and the impact on clients, who by virtue of their health or disability are in need of additional support, are more significant than for any other benefit.”

Kay Birch, Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice added:

“The treatment some of our clients have experienced is truly shocking”

She detailed the following incidents:

  • Medical assessors completing assessments before they have even seen the client; 
  • A housebound client relying on oxygen being expected to travel to his assessment centre on public transport carrying an oxygen cylinder with him; 
  • Clients who have been in receipt of support for long-term conditions for years suddenly cut off and the resulting appeals taking 15 to 16 months to be resolved.

“Without the ongoing support of local Food Banks, many of our clients would not have been able to cope,” Kay said.

Alan Bruzon, Manager of Eastbourne CAB added: “The system for PIP and ESA is broken. Seven out of ten appeals are upheld which shows that the processes for assessing need are simply not working.”

What the Citizens Advice report recommends

  • Simplifying the application process;
  • Making the medical assessment process accessible, fair, delivered to quality standards by suitably trained assessors with the individual’s circumstances listened to; 
  • Tackling the excessive delay in the system;
  • Tackling errors earlier so applicants do not have to go through a lengthy and stressful appeal process unnecessarily, at significant cost to the taxpayer.

What is Citizens Advice doing?

The report has been sent to all MPs in the county and Citizens Advice services in East Sussex urge them to press for action to improve a system that is letting down the very people it is designed to support.

Footnote

The latest news follows a six-part investigation by this website into the work of Uckfield Citizens Advice, with examples of how they are helping the poorest and most vulnerable to society.

This link COMMENT: Shock that ghost Charles Dickens in still alive was the final part of the series. It contains links to the previous parts of the series published over the previous five days.

See also:

Uckfield youth centre to re-open

Nibbles and wine as Uckfield Spa opens

Universal Dance launch new musical theatre dance class

Fencing goes up around Uckfield College building site

Chestnut Tree House collects donated toys from Uckfield Cube Self Storage

Find local organisations in our Uckfield Directory

How to advertise on UckfieldNews.com

 

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