“My experiences have still been the stuff of nightmares”

I’m a 56 year old former teacher. I originally had to give up work following a serious assault by a pupil, 15 years ago. I also have a genetic degenerative condition which has deteriorated badly in the last 10 years.

From 2004 I received Incapacity Benefit and DLA high rate so I was exempt from assessments. In 2012 I was sent the forms to transfer to ESA. It took 6 weeks short of 2 years and 12 cancelled appointments for my face to face assessment to finally happen, which lasted a whole 10 minutes before the doctor said She would recommend that I be in the support group. Even in that short time and even though she knew she was being recorded the brief report contained 23 factual errors and suggested I would be fully recovered in 2 years.

In 2015 I was invited to claim PIP. After 12 months of failed appointments – basically the assessor just not turning up – I finally got my face to face assessment from which the physiotherapist decided I could walk more than 50 metres amongst various other ‘errors’ including the descriptor that he ticked being different to the one discussed in the justification.

At no point during the assessment did I leave my NHS provided powered wheelchair, and despite me providing a recording of the assessment DWP decided that as I received enhanced rate of both components anyway, the errors in the report didn’t matter.
Both assessments caused enormous stress, resulting in a massive deterioration in my mental health and at least one hospital stay.

Both of these assessments resulted in complaints which eventually got to the Independent Case Examiner. Both complaints were upheld and in both cases the HCP who carried out the assessment was heavily criticised.

The assessment contractor also came in for heavy criticism for making me jump through ridiculous hoops to get an assessment at home even though NONE of the assessment centres in my area are wheelchair accessible, including having to pay for medical evidence.

Fast forward to 2017 and an ESA 50 landed on the doormat. DWP know that I use assistive technology and need forms in electronic format, but never mind I found one online. As an attempt to avoid the hassle over getting a home visit I stuck notices over key information highlighting my issues, and requested that the assessment provider use the evidence from previous assessments as confirmation.

All information was totally ignored and they insisted that I must go to an assessment centre. 3 months of argument plus more paid for medical evidence later they not only backed down on the location of the assessment but also decided I didn’t need one at all, though once again I will miraculously have recovered in 2 years.

Meanwhile I received renewal papers for PIP on 19th December , however they had taken so long to reach me that I effectively had 7 working days to get them back in the post. Again, no electronic form and this time none available online, and no chance of getting assistance to complete the forms by hand in that timescale and no luck getting through to anyone by phone to ask for an extension. I managed to get them in the post on time, but only at the expense of anything else I might have wanted to do over the holiday, and it wasn’t just my Christmas that was ruined, but also my family’s. Spending hours focusing on all the things I cannot do isn’t conducive to celebration.

My complaint about the ESA fiasco got nowhere and I see no point in yet another slap on the wrist from ICE, so I’m making a claim under the Equality Act. I’ve requested mandatory reconsideration of the 2 year prognosis and will go to appeal on that if I have to. I can’t do this every two years until I retire – potentially 5 more assessments.

Despite the pressure on me to get the PIP forms back on time, there is apparently a nationwide backlog and the threat of losing 60% of my income will be hanging over me for a few more months yet. I’m optimistic that I’ll keep enhanced of both components, but I won’t be surprised if I get nothing since of course I’ve bought a better wheelchair and paid for adaptions to my home and car because I’m too lazy to walk and/or to justify benefit claims.

For those people who think that it’s the claimant’s fault if the assessment system goes wrong or that people only complain if they don’t get the award they think they should have, so far at least I’ve managed to stay in the support group and get the maximum possible award of PIP, but my experiences have still been the stuff of nightmares and there is absolutely no doubt that the process has damaged my health further. I truly understand how some claimants are driven to suicide.



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