Disability benefits: STOP the reviews

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and Black Triangle protesting at the Scottish Parliament

Arianna from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty is speaking at our Zoom workshop on Wednesday 17 March 1.30pm-3pm, about this campaign. Register on Eventbrite here.

Shared from ECAP:

Disability Benefits Must be Extended Indefinitely – STOP the Reviews!

Several claimants being supported by ECAP recently received letters informing them that either their Personal Independence Payment or their Employment and Support Allowance award was to be reviewed. This news is bad enough at any time, as the review could result in your benefits being reduced or cut completely – but it’s even worse during a pandemic when it’s much more difficult to access support, or contact medical professionals to obtain evidence.

ECAP says – all scheduled reviews for disability/ sickness benefits like Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance should be completely suspended during the pandemic, and the benefits extended indefinitely, on top of the nine month extensions the Government is implementing for PIP claimants. Reviews were suspended during the first wave of the pandemic and the situation right now is worse in many ways. (Virtually no welfare rights services and claimants solidarity groups can currently offer face-to-face appointments, just support by phone and email.)

The current situation is confusing. Justin Tomlinson, Minister of State for the DWP, stated on 11 January:

“The Department has been automatically applying extension of awards of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and have issued around 756,000 notifications to date. We still have c 850,000 notifications to issue and remaining customers will be notified of their new award end date early 2021, the planned completion date for all extension activity.”

There is news the DWP are currently sending out letters informing many current PIP recipients that due to the pandemic their award has been extended, typically for nine months.

This letter reads: “We suspended Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Award Reviews because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We have now begun reviewing PIP awards again and we may look at some awards later than we originally planned. To make sure that you still receive your payments we have extended your award until . . .” The letter then gives a new end date for the award, typically 9 months after it was originally due to end.

An Attack on Disabled Claimants

Extensions to awards are welcome to a degree… BUT the Government statement that “We have now begun reviewing PIP awards again…” is an attack on disabled claimants and shows a total disregard for the huge obstacles disabled claimants face in dealing with reviews when support services are closed / operating a restricted service and when medical professionals who could provide letters of support are under huge pressure. What’s more the phone assessments being used during the lock-down are in general even worse than the face-to-face assessments when at least it is easier to have someone accompany and support you.

Claimants are denouncing the fact that even though they have received an extension to their PIP award, this news has been swiftly followed by another DWP letter informing them that their PIP is now going to be reviewed. Sometimes the return date for the forms is very short, eg two or three weeks. Then if the DWP deem that you have not provided “enough information” they can subject you to a phone assessment.

One claimant told Benefits and Work: “I received an extension letter in November until July 2021 and then I got a light touch letter in November about a week later to say I have to fill in a light touch form… I’ve now got a phone consultation on the second of February as I’ve not provided enough information…. Another claimant said: “The NHS ought to sue the DWP for causing it extra costs in the needless damage to people’s mental and physical health.… “ (see comments section here). Other claimants have received extension letters which wrongly reduce the length of the award.

We repeat – all scheduled reviews for PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) should be completely suspended during the pandemic, and the benefits extended indefinitely, on top of the nine month extensions. It is inhuman to subject disabled people to the threat of losing their benefits in this way. Benefits should continue, and reviews should NOT restart, until welfare rights and support services are fully working and accessible.

Contest PIP Reviews!

If you receive a letter saying your PIP or ESA is to be reviewed we urge you to seek support to contest this. You can argue that you need support to complete the review form and go through the assessment process and this is not available at present.

You can cite the fact that Justin Tomlinson the government minister for the DWP has acknowledged there is a problem as he has stated that PIP claims ARE being extended and that in fact the DWP ARE sending letters extending many claimants’ benefits.

If you cannot get the DWP to suspend the review and extend your benefits indefinitely then at least keep insisting you need more time.

But you do need to be very careful to get the DWP to agree in writing that you do not need to return any review form you have been sent – it is vital not to risk losing your benefit.

It’s always best to get support and solidarity from a group like ECAP – we are still supporting people by phone and email. While we have no faith at all in politicians, in such situations it can also be useful to seek support from your MP – they have caseworkers who can fight your corner.

Reviewing disability benefits in the middle of a pandemic is total injustice – we need to make this a real issue. This whole episode shows the need for claimants and all working class people to organise. We must make sure that the needs of disabled claimants and all claimants are not disregarded by the callous bureaucratic machine that is the DWP – we are not disposable units of production. People not Profits!

NOTES

The only situation in which it might be in your interest to have an award reviewed is if you are not receiving the top rate of benefit and you have clear evidence that your situation has worsened such that your award could be increased. Seek advice first though!

New claims for PIP are still being taken and it is best to go ahead, as any award is backdated to the claim date. How to claim.

PIP Enquiry line for existing claims 0800 121 4433

A young disabled mother killed herself after hearing she would have to attend a face-to-face PIP assessment, following repeated warnings that she could not cope with such a meeting, an inquest has heard.

The latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics show that in October 2020, nearly three quarters (74%) of PIP claims awarded were short term (0 to 2 years), less than one in 10 (7%) were longer term (over 2 years) and less than one in 10 (7%) were ongoing. This pattern of short-term awards only heaps more stress and uncertainty on disabled claimants.

Info from ECAP on dealing with PIP assessments and Work Capability Assessments. See also our Links and Coronavirus Support pages.

Info from Child Poverty Action Group on PIP reviews and what to do if your award ends soon.

Thanks to Benefits and Work

WinVisible adds:

See our telephone interviews self-help info

Benefits info page on exemption from interview and paper-based assessment.

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