Travels With My Wheelchair - It’s Enough To Give You The PIP!
Usually when I am writing this feature, I am writing from personal experience, or from a well documented report in press or social media, however accurate it may be. This feature mixes second hand experiences and some press/social media scare stories. I’m talking about PIP, or, more accurately, those who have faced, are facing, and still have to face, the transition from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Like many of you, I was awarded High Rate DLA for ‘an indefinite period’, which was taken to mean for life – unless something changed. I exchanged my DLA for a car on the Motability scheme and all seemed well with the world.
The application form was extensive, designed to give the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sufficient information to decide if you needed additional help due to your disability. An assessment by an independent doctor was also included. By and large disabled people could have faith in the system. However, a change in government led to a decision to investigate changes to the system which would mean that eventually everyone in receipt of DLA and of working age on a particular date, would have to reapply for what was renamed Personal Independence Payment. At the back of these changes was the hope, by the government, of moving a large number of disabled people, many with long-term chronic conditions, back into work, reducing the welfare budget and by ruthlessly applying their criteria withdrawing money (and cars) which many people had been receiving for years. To make matters worse, the assessments were carried out by ‘independent’ assessors did not always have any medical knowledge/training and who were determined to take back monies and cars which disabled people had relied on for years. Thankfully the appeals procedure was available to ensure that these benefits were restored where it was obvious errors had been made, but this took time and people were worse off for the time it took to be resolved.
There were many horror stories, including those of people driven to take their own lives and the timetable to complete the transfer of all those in receipt of DLA to the new PIP has been extended several times, partly due to the numbers appealing their original decision. This means that there will still be a number of our members, like myself, who still have to go through the process. And we still hear our share of horror stories about the whole thing.
From the drop of the brown envelope through the letterbox ‘inviting’ us to apply for PIP, to the receipt of the final adjudication, the process can easily cause enough stress to aggravate already existing long term conditions like Polio. Filling in the form, once it arrives, can be a challenge. Any members can ask for help with this from Central Office and it is the applicant’s responsibility to gather the relevant medical information required. I know in my own case, there is a large gap covering the years when the only time I was near a hospital was to see the orthotist for new shoes and callipers. My condition was ‘stable’.
More recently, I have been seeing medical staff and have been asking them if I can give their details to the DWP when it comes time to fill in “the form”. Once the form’s been completed and submitted (sent recorded for security), there’s the wait until the call for the face-to-face assessment. This may be at an assessment centre, or it may be at the applicant’s home. Many’s the tale told of unsuitable assessment centres – not wheelchair accessible, no lift (or broken down), no nearby disabled parking. Appointments made for specific times, applicants turn up, left waiting and then told ‘assessor is unavailable’ and alternative appointment made.
Applicants are penalised if they fail to keep appointments or ask to have it changed because they are unsuitable. So, a home visit is less stressful, right? Not always. A friend is currently going through the process and had been given a home assessment appointment for 9am on Monday 30 December. She received notice of this appointment not long before Christmas (actually on her birthday) and although it seemed a strange time to have an appointment, being between Christmas and New Year, she was grateful to get it over with. Like many of us, to be ready for a 9am appointment, it means an early rise to be able to get washed, dressed and ready to meet the assessor. In this instance, it also meant a largely sleepless night the night before worrying about it all. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I hate more than sitting around waiting on someone to arrive, especially first thing in the day. 9am arrived and no sign of the assessor. Still no sign by 10amand typically a toilet visit was becoming necessary. Assessor’s office was contacted, and she was told the appointment would now be between 11 and 1. More hanging around, but at least the loo visit could be safely undertaken. Just before1pm, when there was still no sign of the assessor, the phone went – there was no one available to undertake the assessment and it was being rearranged for 31 January. At least the lady involved was being assessed at home, so no travel issues, but the whole experience is stressful and to get a call just two minutes before the end of the time slot was hardly considerate, especially when the original time for the appointment was 9am. A complaint has been put in about the way the issue was handled – I sincerely hope it is not repeated. By the time you are reading this, the ordeal hopefully will be over – except for the adjudication. They’d better not mess this one up!
Good luck to all who are currently going through this transition. The process for transition of existing claimants is now supposed to be completed by 2021.
Please note this article was first published January 2020