2,400 disabled in east London wrongly lose Personal Independence Payments
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More than 2,000 disabled people in east London were wrongly stripped of their benefits, this newspaper can reveal.
Figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice show nearly three quarters of decisions to take away Personal Independence Payments (PIP) from claimants in Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets were overturned on appeal.
Disability campaigners say this has compounded the misery for thousands of people living in chronic ill-health forced to endure a system that has long stood accused of being unfit for purpose.
“The PIP assessment is clearly not working,” said James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, “which means thousands of disabled people are being forced to go through the appeals process just to get the support they are entitled to.”
PIP gives people with health conditions or disabilities weekly payments for everyday costs. The benefits are vital to thousands because of the barriers facing them in work or education.
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The government introduced the controversial system four years ago in a bid to cut welfare costs, while also insisting the change would not reduce the amount paid to claimants.
But the data, obtained by this newspaper through a Freedom of Information request, shows that nearly three quarters of decisions to remove PIP benefits in the east London boroughs we looked at are later overturned on appeal.
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“These findings clearly show that far too many people in need of help are having their claims rejected,” said Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge. “Even just one incorrect decision is a scandal, let alone 2,400 in east London.”
Members of the public appealing decisions contacted her each week about their PIP claim, said the Labour MP.
“It is not right,” she added, “that those who are disabled or are suffering from ill health are being put through this ordeal.
“Clearly the Department for Work and Pensions need to look again at how they assess PIP claims. The process needs to be made simpler and they need to start getting these decisions right first time.”
Both the RM postcode area, which covers Dagenham, and the IG postcode area, which covers Barking, saw increases in the number of appeals made as well as those that were successful in the past three years.
In the former area, 71pc of the 631 people who appealed in 2016/17 got their money back and in the latter, 69pc of the 321 claimants who launched appeals were successful.
Ministry of Justice figures show the high rate of appeals found in east London are also reflected nationally.
Campaigners calling for reform of the system say the high error rate in decision making would incur a heavy cost in both time and money.
Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, said disabled people already faced many hurdles to work and education, and problems with PIP were making the issue worse.
“All too often disabled people face barrier after barrier in accessing vital support,” he said, adding that the social care crisis “is perpetuating disabled people being sidelined and marginalised.”
He called for political parties to unite to call for an independent review of the PIP system.
Terry Miller, chief executive of the Dagenham-based Independent Living Authority, meanwhile, worried the data could hide others who do not know how to get their rightful payments back.
“Many don’t know they have a right of appeal,” he said. “We’re wondering how many people are out there that are not coming forward when they’re turned down.”
In April MPs on a Work and Pensions committee read of the emotional toll taken by disabled people going through the appeals system.
“I feel beaten into submission after two years,” said one claimant in written evidence from charity Inclusion London. Another reported suffering a heart attack because of the “stress” fighting two tribunals.
While private contractor Atos carries out PIP assessments in London, the Department for Work and Pensions decides on appeals.
“Only a small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal — just four per cent of PIP assessments,” said a DWP spokesman. “In the vast majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because the claimant provides new evidence to support their claim which they initially did not provide.”
He said eight pc of the 2.6 million decisions between 2013 and 2017 were appealed against.
We contacted Atos for comment, but they referred us to the DWP.