Here is a saga of my sister’s application for Personal Independence Payments. She applied for this state benefit in June 2017, yet 10 months later there is no sign of her receiving it.
My sister’s network includes my ever-wonderful wife. Her help has included direct support of my sister, and of our mother who has very severe issues of her own. My brother and his wife are also very supportive of our sister and mother, especially providing on-the-spot support, while I concentrate on the bureaucracy. They all live fairly close, but my wife and I live over 300 miles from them.
While I feel more about my sister’s case than about any other, she has possibly one of the most fortunate cases. I am deeply concerned for others who do not have such a strong support network.
The major issues we’ve faced are, in rough chronological order:
- My sister and I were both asked to bring our passports to her face-to-face assessment. What about claimants who do not have such ‘proofs’ of ID?
- My sister’s income has been seriously reduced. Fortunately she has savings, and a family who would support her if she hadn’t. What about people who don’t have these?
- When an internet-capable person is involved, surely this could be sent via secure online messaging, especially during Christmas when many people aren’t at home, and when postal delays are inevitable. Of course, some claimants may not be able to do this.
- I’m fairly fanatical about keeping records but you’ll see below that there are some gaps in my records. What about people who don’t – or can’t – keep such detailed records?
Postal delays, seriously reducing the time available to appeal decisions.
DWP officials’ apparent inability to write clearly.
DWP’s refusal to accept Powers of Attorney, the major state-supported delegation of powers
Lack of legal representation: I could not find any lawyers willing to represent my sister at tribunal.
HMCTS’ confusion over whether my sister’s case should be handled by their Scottish or English offices (She lives in England, I live in Scotland.)
|Late 1960s||My brother and sister are born. My parents soon realise that both have some congenital issues. My brother’s issues are purely physical, but my sister has major learning difficulties.|
|1996 to 1998||My sister receives Disability Working Allowance.|
|1996||My sister begins receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA).|
|1999||My sister begins receiving Tax Credits due to her disabilities and low wages.|
|Some time before 2001||My sister gets a shelf-stacking job in her home town. This ends in 2001 when the company ceases trading in the UK.|
|2001||With the help of MENCAP, my sister gets a part-time shelf-stacking job in a town 12 miles from her home. She is still working there as I write this post.|
|11 May 2017||My sister is informed that her DLA will end soon, and that she should apply for PIP.|
|16 June 2017||After checking with my mother and sister about her conditions, I complete the 40-page PIP application form. My sister signs it, then posts it to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). She claims PIP because she has major issues preparing food, communicating, reading, making decisions about money and planning journeys, and minor issues with other activities|
|21 June 2017||Capita acknowledges receipt of the application, informing my sister that one of its health professionals is considering her claim on behalf of DWP. She is also likely to be assessed face-to-face by a health professional.|
|July 2017||My sister is asked to come to an assessment in her home town on 13 July. I quickly arrange time off to accompany her (thanks Peter and Hazel!), and spend £300 on travel.|
|3 July 2017||After a fairly painless process, Powers of Attorney (PoAs) enabling me, my brother and our wives to act on our mother’s and sister’s behalves (both health and welfare and property and financial affairs) come into force.|
|5 July 2017||DWP phones my sister to say they will assess her at home on 13 July.|
|13 July 2017||The assessment doesn’t go ahead. DWP claim this is because my sister didn’t confirm that she would attend. After some negotiation, the assessment is rearranged for 17 July, so I arrange to take more time off work.|
|17 July 2017||The assessment goes ahead. With hindsight, the assessor didn’t assess all 12 PIP activities, for example omitting assessing her budgeting issues. (My sister can’t give correct change, let alone create or follow a budget. Yet DWP would later claim that she can budget well enough.)
The assessor did ask whether my sister could memorise instructions. I asked for a real-world example, so the assessor wrote a list including going out of the assessment room, along a corridor, then coming back. After 10 minutes, we both went to look for my sister because she had forgotten she was meant to come back, and hadn’t thought to take the written instructions with her. Later on, DWP would claim that my sister can memorise and follow written instructions.
|21 July 2017||I claim travel expenses for the second journey to accompany my sister. On 27 July, I am informed these will be refunded. I am not allowed to claim travel expenses for the first journey.|
|1 August 2017||DWP informs my sister that it has all the information it needs to decide her case.|
|19 August 2017||A somewhat garbled letter from DWP informs my sister that it has awarded her 0 daily living and 0 mobility points, implying that she is sufficiently capable of the 12 PIP activities, so will not pay her PIP. The letter is dated 4 August, and gives my sister until 4 September to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.
The letter also informs my sister that her DLA payments will cease on 5 September.
|29 August 2017||We submit a request for mandatory reconsideration, stating that DWP has ignored my sister’s inability to prepare meals involving use of timers to have everything ready at the same time, inability to understand or use ‘best-before’ dates and similar, communication issues (basically, inability to understand or draw conclusions), reading issues (inability to understand some fairly simply words, let alone sentences. or ‘between the lines’ meanings), complete inability to budget, inability to plan journeys to unfamiliar places and inability to deal with interruptions to familiar journeys.
Fortunately, I get my sister to countersign this request. Certified copies of the PoAs are included, so that I should be able to speak directly with DWP about my sister’s claim.
|Early September 2017||I phone DWP to try to find out what has happened to her claim, and whether I have the right to speak on her behalf. DWP tells me that a PoA is not enough – I will need to send in a letter from my sister authorising me to speak for her. It will then take about 3 weeks for DWP to finally accept that I can speak for my sister.|
|7 September 2017||We send in an authorising letter.|
|Mid-October 2017||The mandatory reconsideration decision, dated 11 October, arrives. It’s barely literate. Again, my sister has been awarded 0 points and hence no PIP. My sister has until 11 November to submit an appeal to her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).|
|Mid-October 2017||I draft an appeal, restating my sister’s issues. I look for lawyers who could represent her at tribunal, but find none willing to take on this kind of work. I try citizens’ advice bureaux (CAB) in Edinburgh and my sister’s home town, and finally get an appointment with a CAB PIP advisor in Worcester after the appeal needs to be submitted.
At the CAB appointment, the advisor compliments the claim I submitted, but suggests that issues I omitted from the appeal should also be reiterated in further communications to the HMCTS because they may help her case.
|23 October 2017||HMRC writes to inform my sister that she will no longer receive the disability component of Tax Credits. Along with the loss of DLA, her annual income has fallen by two-thirds, to around £7000.|
|late October 2017||We submit the appeal, and a reiteration that I am authorised to represent my sister. The appeal restates my sister’s issues, why they should qualify her for PIP-points, and that she should be awarded at least the basic rate of PIP. The appeal also includes a statement from our mother, outlining my sister’s history of special needs, and how these affect her.|
|8 November 2017||The appeal is delivered to HMCTS.|
|16 November 2017||HMCTS’ Glasgow office writes to inform me that the appeal arrived after the deadline. I phone them to state that the appeal arrived at their England office before the deadline. It was sent there because my sister lives in England. The England office appears to have assumed that because I live in Scotland, the appeal would be heard in Scotland, so sent the appeal to Glasgow.
I am told that a judge has permitted the appeal to go forward, despite the appeal ‘arriving’ (at the Glasgow office) after the deadline.
|28 November 2017||DWP posts me copies of all the correspondence to do with my sister’s claim, and their records of the assessment in July. I spit chips as I read the latter.|
|30 November 2017||The CAB PIP advisor writes to confirm her understanding of my sister’s case. She will ask my sister’s manager to write about her experience of my sister’s issues. I will ask my sister’s Scouting friends to do the same. She has informed the HMCTS that she is helping with the appeal.|
|19 November 2017||HMCTS’ Birmingham office writes to inform me that the appeal will be heard in a town in my sister’s home county – about 30 miles from my sister’s home town|
|29 December 2017||HMCTS’ Birmingham office writes to inform me that they have not received a completed hearing enquiry form about my sister’s appeal. This is not surprising because neither my sister or I received a request to submit this form.
I phone HMTCS to inform them of this, and am told simply to send in one now.
|December 2017 to January 2018||I gather statements about my sister’s disabilities from my sister’s Scouting friends. These make it clear that she is not – and never will be – an independent adult capable of undertaking the 12 activities which are assessed for PIP.|
|Today (25 April 2018)||We are still waiting for details of when and where the appeal will take place. The CAB PIP advisor warned us in 2017 that HMCTS then had a 6-month backlog, and that it would only get worse.|