Thousands of sick and disabled Scots are being hit by another new benefit reform which is leaving many for months without money to pay for basics like food, fuel and housing – according to a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland.
The new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been introduced in Scotland over the last year. It replaces the Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) as the main benefit that helps disabled people meet the costs of their basic daily living.
But evidence recorded by CAB advisers across Scotland shows that the new system is dogged by huge delays, which can leave the claimants in poverty for months, and many claimants are reporting that the assessment process is problematic and prone to mistakes. While some claimants are satisfied with the system, it is notable that many of the problems we have identified follow the pattern of previous welfare reforms like the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), suggesting that many lessons have not been learned.
The problems with PIP are outlined in today’s CAS report (attached). The main points include:
- The assessment process is problematic for many clients, with some having to travel long distances to their test centre. 24% of CAB advisers report that the assessment decisions are inaccurate and need to be appealed.
- Clients are experiencing huge delays between their claim and receiving payment. The average is 6 months, but some have reported delays of 13, 14 or 15 months.
- Over half of our advisers say these delays cause the claimant severe hardship, with many of them needing to use foodbanks. 78% say this causes their condition to deteriorate, and 95% say this impacts negatively on their ability to claim other benefits.
Publishing today’s report, CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,
“The basic cost of living is generally higher for sick and disabled people than for the average citizen. This is because of the additional costs of special food, medicines or equipment they might need, extra heating and lighting costs for those who need to stay at home longer, or transport costs for those who are less mobile.
“These extra costs are not luxuries. They are essential to leading a basic life of dignity, and any civilised society should make it a priority to see that people who need this help get it without fuss. The evidence we are publishing here shows that, under the new Personal Independence Payment, too many disabled people are not getting that support, and many are falling into poverty as a result.
“While some claimants are reporting that the system has worked well for them, we are still finding too many delays, and too many inaccurate assessments. It is deeply worrying that so many problems have already emerged with the new system at such an early stage. What is especially disappointing is that some of these are problems that were previously experienced with ESA. It appears that, despite some improvements, too many of those lessons have not been learned.
“In reporting these problems today we ask the Government to take them seriously and address them urgently, as they are causing great detriment to some very vulnerable citizens and their families.”
This is the latest in a series of evidence reports we have published which focuses on aspects of the UK government’s welfare reforms. The series is entitled Voices from the Frontline. Other reports from the series are on our website at www.cas.org.uk
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The following is a sample of case studies are taken from the attached report. All of these are anonymous, but they have all been reported at Scottish CAB offices over the last year. Unfortunately we do not currently have case studies willing to be named or interviewed.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who applied for PIP in August 2013. He received a face-to-face assessment in May 2014, and finally got a decision in July 2014, 47 weeks after first applying.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who applied for PIP in November 2013. As of August 2014 he has heard nothing about having a face-to-face assessment or getting a decision about his benefit.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has serious health issues and last year was diagnosed with throat cancer. The client has been waiting for over ten months for an appointment for an assessment for PIP with Atos. As a result of waiting for this length of time the client is now in in financial difficulty, with rent and Council Tax arrears of almost £2,600, despite his wife working full time.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who came into the foodbank. He is now in receipt of ESA but is still waiting to hear about PIP. He is finding it hard to manage in the meantime. The CAB advised that PIP claims are taking about six months at present. This was his fourth foodbank referral.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client based in a city who has been offered a medical assessment 25 miles away in a rural town. This would be very difficult for her to do on public transport.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had a stroke several months ago and is severely disabled in speech and with all forms of movement. He applied for PIP six months ago but has not received a payment or been told if he would qualify. He and his wife are suffering a lot of stress due to their financial worries, the problems of his health and the recent death of his mother. They have also had to give up their car due to his lack of income.
- An Island CAB reports of a client who called to update the CAB on her PIP application. She called Atos again yesterday, having had no response previously, and ‘lost it’ slightly. She is still no nearer to getting an appointment for a home visit. She is waiting to get a suitable car to take the wheelchair. She is unable to arrange this until her PIP award is finalised, and has now been waiting six months, with no indication that she will receive an assessment soon. She lives in a remote area and has no access to any other form of transport.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who applied for PIP seven months ago and received a backdated award one month ago. He is eligible for 50% off road tax but this cannot be backdated. As a result of the PIP delay, he has lost seven months’ discount.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was contacted about a home visit for an assessment for PIP. However, the client was an in-patient at hospital on the arranged date and phoned to advise Atos. They told the client that it would affect any award of PIP if they did not attend. The client had to seek medical consent to leave hospital, pay £12 for a taxi and was then told by the Health Care Professional (HCP) that she couldn't carry out the assessment because the client was too ill. The client had a nasogastric tube in place and was using a wheeled walking frame. Eventually the HCP was given authority by her manager to carry out the assessment as long as the client agreed. The HCP was shocked at what the client had had to go through. After the assessment was carried out, the client had to pay a further £12 for a return fare to hospital.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had been for his PIP medical assessment with Atos. He found it an upsetting experience as the woman interviewing him, who he believed to be a nurse, was aggressive and unpleasant, repeatedly asked the same questions and was unsympathetic to the pain the client was experiencing, as if she disbelieved him.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who came to bureau to make a complaint about Atos. She had waited in her home for two hours for the medical assessor to come, but no one came. When she phoned Atos she was told that the doctor saw there were work vans outside her property and did not attempt to go to her door, but went away without seeing her. The client was very upset as she has been waiting for seven months for her assessment.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who found when she arrived at her PIP assessment that the computers were 'down' and the assessor had no information in front of her. The client had to go through her whole claim from scratch and felt like she was being interrogated. The client has had suicidal thoughts but is extremely nervous about voicing them in case someone decides she is not fit to look after her son. She was extremely distressed and felt worried that she had said too much and worried about the possible consequences. Telling the assessor everything already on form (which she had found distressing in the first place) was exhausting. She felt shivery, tearful and ill afterwards. Tactless questioning by the assessor added to an already stressful situation.
COMMENTS OF CAB ADVISERS
We surveyed Scottish CAB advisers last month to get their views on how the PIP is working. These are some of the comments advisers have made to us. All are quoted in the attached report.
“Current decision making time in [this area] is on average ten months plus.”
“The length of time is growing so it's currently hard to say [what the length of a typical delay is]. We have taken to referring clients to the local MP who raised each case with Atos, which sped things up. They have now told us that they cannot intervene unless the client has been waiting more than 26 weeks for an assessment.”
“We have [a] client who is undergoing cancer treatment. He has a huge amount of difficulty funding his transport to appointments for treatment, which will be eased significantly once his PIP claim is resolved. The client is having to use credit cards that are just about maxed out to fund his care needs. He has additional heating costs as well.”
“Financial [impact], especially for working age clients with no contractual sick pay entitlement who have been unable to return to work in the long term after a stroke, etc.”
“The frustration, hopelessness and despondency that the delays are causing.”
“The delays cause clients to be in a state of limbo during the claiming process – neither receiving PIP nor not receiving PIP. Clients feel both stressed and uncertain throughout the claiming process.”
“In some cases the support [the CAB] offers is the only thing that stops the client going ‘over the edge’, as they feel so vulnerable and victimised. The added wait increases this negative feeling.”
“Partner having to give up work to care for someone and unable to claim carers allowance due to delay in awarding PIP. This is putting a very great strain on the family.”
“Delays in receiving passported benefits continuing their financial hardship and making it difficult for clients to make the right and affordable choices in terms of their care and mobility needs.”
“Delays in applying for Blue Badge or exemption from vehicle excise duty. Clients struggle to get disabled parking close by to where they want to be and often avoid going out at all.”
“The medical assessments, in my opinion, have been of a much higher standard than we have encountered previously, with careful attention to the needs of the client, so the system is much fairer, but the decision making delays represent an unacceptable cost to the client financially and contributes to high levels of anxiety on the clients and their carers.”
“Assessment centres are too far away, often in Inverness, which is approximately an 80 mile round trip.”
“All assessments are being undertaken by home visit. [There have] only been three visits to the island since PIP was introduced. Many clients are without income and relying on foodbank etc.”
“We have over 100 miles’ travel to the assessment centre (2.5 – 3 hours travel). Home visits are rare and when they do come to [the island] they only seem to complete one visit at a time.”
“Location has been a problem with some clients being expected to travel well outwith the Glasgow central area (Ayr and Kilmarnock). This has been a particular concern for those who have mental health issues and struggle to venture outdoors.”
“In these cases [of clients affected by both PIP and ESA delays] it has caused extreme hardship, with clients relying on food banks, hand-outs from friends, etc, to try to sustain themselves. The amount of debt increases to an unmanageable degree and clients feel victimised and treated worse than criminals. The clients that I have seen have genuine health conditions verified by medical professionals and cannot work and are crippled by the idea that they can’t work – they want to but are unable.”
“We have one client who has been waiting for an ESA assessment since November 2013 [nine months]. His income is so reduced that he can’t access appointments – if he pays for transport he can’t feed his electricity meter or himself, and is reliant on crisis grants, of which he has had the maximum allowed. The client has PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and other mental health problems. [His] mental health deteriorates relying on charity. This is a client who has always worked and is a first time claimant in his 50s.”