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
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