(*) - Names have been changed to protect identities.
This month marks 15 months since Personal Independence Payments came into effect in the UK, taking over from Disability Living Allowance for people of working age. It’s been a gradual rollout, with new applicants immediately going through to PIP while some DLA recipients slowly made the transition through reassessments.
As it stands, this month marks the mid-point in this transition. We’re 15 months from the second batch of reassessments, when the remaining people on DLA will be assessed to see if they meet the criteria for PIP. And while this may all sound fine, there’s a unanimous view that it is a severely flawed system.
Six months ago, in February, the first set of figures concerning PIP were released by the Department for Work and Pensions. And these figures were shocking, revealing that since the payments were first implemented nine months previously, fewer than one in six people had their claim decided. That makes for some long waiting times for people who are, more than likely, in situations where waiting isn’t much of an option.
‘A Nerve-Wracking Wait’
Sarah Lloyd* suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression and Anxiety. She has attempted suicide numerous times and her anxiety makes it very difficult for her to communicate with people or be in unfamiliar locations. As a result of this Sarah is unable to work, as her medication doesn’t resolve the problems. Though she is currently a student and therefore receiving some fixed income through student loans and grants, her condition makes it increasingly difficult for her to maintain her studies. Her only hope of an income at this stage is through PIP.
“I heard about PIP through a friend who is currently on DLA,“ Sarah told me. “I read up about it and decided to apply. The wait was unbearable, not knowing whether or not I’d even get an assessment. I’d heard really bad things about waiting times for everyone who had applied, so it was a huge relief when I got a letter through about my assessment.“
Sarah applied in late 2013 and had her assessment in May, which she described as an “intimidating“ experience. “[The assessment] was a little intimidating. I had no idea what to expect, and knew that a lot depended on it. With my anxiety as well, the idea of a face-to-face assessment was even more terrifying.“
Despite having had her assessment, there is no telling when a decision will be reached about Sarah’s application. But still, Sarah is one of the lucky ones. Her waiting time for assessment was around six months, which is short in comparison to what many have to endure. During this time, Sarah found it difficult to stay afloat financially.
“The support of PIP would get rid of my financial stress, but the waiting period was very hard. It was a nerve-wracking wait. Being unable to work, I was stretching my student loan as far as possible to get by. I was forced to borrow money from friends and family at times, it was so bad. I’m lucky that my wait for an assessment was relatively short, as I’m not sure I could have coped with a longer wait.“
PIP is replacing DLA, according to gov.uk, to provide “a more objective assessment“ of individuals and to make sure there are “regular reviews so that individuals continue to get the right support“. But this change appears to have inadvertently backfired: the long waiting times mean that individuals aren’t getting the right support when they need it, and are going months without any support. And the “more objective“ assessment may lead to stricter rules, something Neil Matthews* is dreading.
Neil is registered blind (though he does have some sight) and has mobility issues, so is currently receiving DLA and is due for reassessment in October 2015. “I’m in a very grey area,“ Neil explains. “Although I’m registered blind, because I can read without a visual aid I might not be entitled to anything for my vision.
“This scared me for a while, as I was worried about my reassessment because of probably having to rely on my mobility problems for payments. And as I use a cane, I wouldn’t have been eligible for enhanced rate of mobility payments before that campaign succeeded.“
The campaign Neil is referring to was by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), who are responsible for delaying the DLA reassessment to October 2015. They are also responsible for a number of changes to the PIP regulations, such as treating a cane in the same way as a guide dog - meaning that cane users should now be able to qualify for enhanced mobility rate of PIP if they receive the higher rate of DLA.
It says a lot about the PIP regulations that such an oversight was made in terms of the use of canes for mobility, especially given that It forms part of the existing DLA criteria. Things like this are what make applicants very cautious about applying for PIP, and wonder whether the change was really necessary.
Neil agrees with this. “I couldn’t tell you a single benefit of PIP over DLA, but I could for DLA over PIP. I know the stricter guidelines will help prevent fraud, but it’s making it much harder for people in actual need too. Plus DLA has a mid-rate that PIP doesn’t, which is what I’m on for mobility at the moment. That seems like a better approach to me, rather than netting at either high or low amounts.
“I don’t really want to put my faith, or myself, into something that’s shown itself to have so many practical problems that it could all fall apart at any time. But there is no other choice. I’m dependent on it.“