Ex­perts lam­baste new PIP sys­tem

Cam­paign­ers re­veal es­ca­lat­ing con­cern over as­sess­ment for dis­abil­ity ben­e­fit as 40% of blind peo­ple are re­jected amid claims of need­less, de­grad­ing tests

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - NEWS - By Peter Swin­don [email protected]

Blind peo­ple are be­ing de­nied cru­cial ben­e­fits be­cause the of­fi­cial as­ses­sors do not un­der­stand sight loss, ex­perts have warned.

A lead­ing char­ity for the blind and vis­ually im­paired has warned as­ses­sors lack the spe­cial­ist knowl­edge to make in­formed judge­ments about whether peo­ple should re­ceive Per­sonal In­de­pen­dence Pay­ment (PIP).

PIP is a non-means-tested ben­e­fit for dis­abled peo­ple who need help with ev­ery­day tasks and get­ting around.

It was in­tro­duced five years ago to re­place the Dis­abil­ity Liv­ing Al­lowance and James Adams, di­rec­tor of Royal Na­tional In­sti­tute of Blind Peo­ple Scot­land, said it is a cru­cial ben­e­fit for blind and par­tially sighted peo­ple.

But, he said: “For too many, we know the cur­rent as­sess­ment and de­ci­sion-mak­ing process is not work­ing. This is caus­ing real hard­ship and dis­tress. “PIP as­ses­sors often don’t un­der­stand sight loss and the dif­fer­ent ways it can im­pact on peo­ple’s daily lives.

“They rou­tinely ask clients to un­der­take a crude vision test, de­spite the fact that in many cases clients have al­ready pro­vided a Cer­tifi­cate of Vis­ual Im­pair­ment signed by an oph­thal­mol­o­gist, which con­firms the level of their func­tional vision. “As­ses­sors ap­pear to have no un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact of the loss or re­duc­tion of some­one’s vis­ual fields, or of light sen­si­tiv­ity – known as pho­to­pho­bia – on a per­son’s abil­ity to nav­i­gate the built en­vi­ron­ment.”

Mr Adams said as­ses­sors will “rou­tinely state” in pa­per­work that a blind per­son “made good eye con­tact” dur­ing an as­sess­ment. But, he ex­plained, most com­monly that means the per­son’s head was sim­ply fol­low­ing the as­ses­sor’s voice.

As­ses­sors will also state that a client “trav­elled in­de­pen­dently” to the as­sess­ment, even though they were taken door-to-door by a taxi.

Mr Adams said: “PIP as­sess­ments need to be un­der­taken by as­ses­sors with a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of sight loss, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion in­di­vid­ual needs.

‘ As­ses­sors ap­pear to have no idea of the im­pact of sight loss

“They also have to be de­liv­ered in ac­ces­si­ble ways for peo­ple with sight loss to fully take part.”

SNP MP Chris Stephens has echoed the con­cerns af­ter ob­tain­ing fig­ures re­veal­ing far more PIP de­ci­sions taken about blind and par­tially sighted peo­ple are be­ing over­turned on ap­peal.

In the last three years, around 40% of blind and vis­ually im­paired peo­ple in Scot­land were re­fused a Per­sonal In­de­pen­dence Pay­ment (PIP) af­ter the ini­tial as­sess­ment.

But 16% of those de­ci­sions were over­turned when blind and vis­ually im­paired peo­ple ap­pealed. Across the UK, an av­er­age of 25% of blind and vis­ually im­paired peo­ple are re­fused PIP and 11% of de­ci­sions are over­turned on ap­peal – com­pared to an av­er­age of 4% of de­ci­sions over­turned for all dis­abled peo­ple. Mr Stephens, who sits on the House of Com­mons Work and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee, asked the gov­ern­ment how many vis­ually im­paired peo­ple were de­nied PIP af­ter ini­tial as­sess­ment, only for the de­ci­sion to be over­turned on ap­peal.

Mr Stephens said: “It is clear from these fig­ures that those in Scot­land with sight loss are be­ing failed by the gov­ern­ment. For four in 10 claimants ap­ply­ing with a vis­ual im­pair­ment to fail the ini­tial as­sess­ment demon­strates that the sys­tem is not work­ing and that those be­ing tasked with de­liv­er­ing it do not fully un­der­stand the ef­fects that sight loss has on a per­son’s day-to-day life.

“Peo­ple are in­stead be­ing forced to go through the stress of tak­ing their case all the way to ap­peal. That process causes anx­i­ety for many, forc­ing them to choose be­tween their own men­tal health and PIP. This is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.”

The DWP said: “The as­sess­ment cri­te­ria was de­signed with health­care ex­perts and dis­abil­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions and we ex­pect the high­est stan­dards from our providers’ qual­i­fied health pro­fes­sion­als who carry them out. “They com­bine their clin­i­cal knowl­edge with an un­der­stand­ing that not ev­ery­one with the same dis­abil­ity is im­pacted in the same way. Un­der PIP 66% of claimants with vis­ual prob­lems are re­ceiv­ing the high­est pos­si­ble sup­port, com­pared with 4% un­der DLA; and over two thirds of those pre­vi­ously on DLA are get­ting more un­der PIP than they did be­fore.” In­de­pen­dent As­sess­ment Ser­vices, for­merly Atos, who carry out the PIP as­sess­ments for the DWP, said: “We value feed­back and en­gage reg­u­larly with or­gan­i­sa­tions that rep­re­sent those with vis­ual im­pair­ment to help make the as­sess­ment process as rel­e­vant and stress-free as pos­si­ble.

“Our health pro­fes­sion­als do not rou­tinely per­form vis­ual tests on in­di­vid­u­als with sight loss where ev­i­dence such as a cer­tifi­cate of vis­ual im­pair­ment is present.”

Jamila Shaikh, with her guide dog Bub­bles, says her ben­e­fit as­sess­ment was dis­tress­ing and de­grad­ing

Politi­cian Chris Stephens

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