A St Neots business woman who was told she was no longer eligible for mobility payments and should return her adapted vehicle because she missed an appointment has launched an appeal.
Sarah Stones, who has cerebral palsy and relies on an adapted vehicle for work and to maintain her independence, admits she made a mistake, but feels the decision, taken by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), is unnecessarily harsh.
Sarah, a HR consultant who lives in Eaton Ford, had been in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, which is now being replaced with Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which allowed her to lease a car that was adapted for her needs.
She also told The Hunts Post that communicating with CAPITA, who undertake assessments for PIP payments, which are for people aged 16 to 64 with long-term health conditions, was like “speaking to a brick wall.”
The 48-year-old was asked to attend an assessment in Peterborough on August 24, but inadvertently put the wrong date in her diary. She says she was shocked to then receive notification that she no longer qualified for benefit and would not be receiving PIP. The letter, sent by the DWP, stated: “this is because you didn’t go for an assessment and we don’t think you’ve given us a good reason for this”.
“As a HR professional, if someone fails to turn up for a disciplinary meeting, I have to give them another chance to attend a meeting,” Sarah told The Hunts Post.
“While I appreciate it was completely my fault, we all make mistakes, I can think of no other instances where failure to attend one appointment has such dire consequences.”
Sarah was offered no opportunity to make another appointment and was not made aware when she phoned to explain what had happened, that she should have submitted a written explanation.
She then received a letter, dated September 23, informing her the car needed to be returned by October 13.
“This was a shock as I had not realised that my car would be taken from me without me undergoing a PIP assessment,” explained Sarah.
Sarah was then left in limbo as she had to wait for the DWP to review the decision.
A letter on October 12, confirmed the original decision was being upheld and she would no longer receive the payment which was funding a lease arrangement on the car.
“I have managed to borrow some money to buy a car as without a vehicle I would not be able to work or live independently. I am now appealing the decision not to allow me to attend a PIP assessment and starting a new PIP application.”
Sarah says during the process, she found staff a CAPITA rude and unhelpful and is convinced the DWP need little excuse to turn down applications in order to meet government targets to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits.
“There is no concern shown for the individual at all,” she added.
“I am raising this issue as I am aware that there are a lot of other people going through PIP assessments who are far less able than I am to ‘fight their own corner’. The amount of stress they have caused, and continue to cause through a lack of communication, the adherence to rigid procedures and a lack of regard for any individual is unbelievable.”
A CAPITA spokesman said: “Postal and phone reminders are carried out by CAPITA in advance of scheduled PIP assessments. In line with the agreed operating guidelines with the DWP, where no advance notice is given to re-book the assessment and it is then missed by the claimant, CAPITA refers these cases back to the DWP. The DWP then liaises with the claimant to decide if a further assessment is requirement.”
CAPITA told The Hunts Post it could not discuss individual cases so was unable to respond to Sarah’s claims about the conduct of its staff . The company also pointed out that once an appointment had been missed, the claim was referred back to the DWP.
* Without PIP, a disabled person cannot access anything from carer’s allowance to severe disability premium.
* Anyone who is rejected – or bumped down to the standard rate – is also barred from the Motability scheme for an accessible car or powered wheelchair.
* It has been estimated that between 400 and 500 adapted cars, powered wheelchairs, and scooters are being taken away from disabled people every week.
* In March, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned after denouncing £4bn of planned cuts to disability benefits as “indefensible”.
* George Osborne announced changes to the benefit system in his Budget in March. He said the government would save £4.4bn by 2020-21 and this included the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in January 2017.