This year at Citizens Advice North East Derbyshire we are campaigning to raise awareness of the issues with Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), with the aim of bringing about change to the current system.
One of our roles at Citizens Advice is to provide support to people entitled PIP or ESA, and we have witnessed increasing numbers of people who are struggling with the claims process. It is not uncommon for us to hear from clients who have been reduced to tears during the assessments and the whole process has a serious impact on the mental health of claimants with existing mental health problems, many of whom describe feeling suicidal due to the experience.
There are several main problems with the current system:
1) * Both PIP and ESA assessments involve a medical assessment carried out by a third party contracted to the DWP, and these ‘Health Care Professionals’ (HCPs) are the source of many of our clients’ problems with the process. The major issue is the frequent disparity between the report produced by HCPs and our clients’ experiences in the assessment. Our clients often tell us that issues have been overlooked, exaggerated or misconstrued, and claimants are often made to feel as though they are in the wrong or lying about the severity of their condition. Resultantly, reports end up failing to provide an accurate reflection of how a condition effects the claimant.
* We also have concerns regarding the process for challenging and appealing unfavourable PIP or ESA decisions. The initial stage, called mandatory reconsideration, often feels like a pointless exercise designed to reduce the number of people take complaints further. We have found that in the majority of cases, a full reconsideration is not given. This means that the original decision is usually left unchanged.
* It can take as long as six months before an appeal is heard due to the backlog in the tribunal service. During this time, our clients have severely reduced income, driving them into debt and poverty. Clients frequently have to rely on food banks and charitable assistance because there is no quick resolution to their problems, and this can result in a deterioration to their health conditions, particularly in the cases of those with mental health problems.
The Department for Work and Pensions must improve the current system. We are appealing to our local MPs to bring attention to these problems in the House of Commons and bring about change to the PIP and ESA system, which will make a real difference not only to the lives of our clients in North East Derbyshire, but to claimants all over the UK as well.