Compensation and backdated benefits for vulnerable client
Citizens Advice Westminster has achieved a significant win for a client in its first Putting it Right challenge to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). After over nine months of stress and anxiety caused by the long drawn-out process and a catalogue of administrative and assessment errors, the client finally received an apology, £100 compensation and a backdated Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The stress caused by this lengthy and difficult process was considerable. The client has a range of medical and mental health problems that have made this process hard to cope with. She had a mental breakdown and is being treated for severe depression and a number of physical conditions including osteoporosis and arthritis.
As the client explains: “I have had surgical procedures carried out on my foot, shoulder, elbow and hand. Last year l suffered a severe left ulnar nerve lesion and a family bereavement that instigated a re-referral for open-ended regular weekly psychotherapy.
“Due to my physical vulnerabilities and mental fragility l applied for a PIP with the assistance of Citizens Advice Westminster. The entire claim was a very stressful experience with an ambience of ‘guilty, unless proven innocent’.
“The ten minute health assessment and appeal court attendance were traumatic. I could not have completed my application without the help of the team at Westminster at every stage, and thank them for giving me the support and courage to continue when I broke down in tears on several occasions at their office in Paddington.”
The DWP wrongly deemed that she was living in supported/sheltered accommodation and used this as a reason to deny her the PIP allowance she was finally awarded. Despite her clarifying her living arrangements in her mandatory reconsideration (the first stage in the process before going to appeal), the DWP continued to assert this and did not check the facts. The treatment she received from the nurse at the assessment was very poor and the information recorded by her was incomplete.
The poor administration by the DWP resulted in two adjourned hearings, extending an already lengthy process by an additional two months. The lack of response to the Citizens Advice letter of 4 July resulted in the client having to make numerous phone calls to find out the outcome.
The client had sent in her PIP claim form on 25 November 2015, having lodged her preliminary phone call on 16 October, but was not given an assessment until 1 February 2016 and only received the outcome on 2 March. She felt that the very brief assessment had not been well conducted as the nurse was aggressive, intimidating and in a rush during the meeting so did not note down all the relevant information, especially the role of the client’s personal support assistant in enabling her to undertake daily tasks.
She was awarded the standard rate of the Daily Living Component, however she was told that it could not be paid as she was living in sheltered/supported housing. This is not the case as she lives in a housing block where there is no medical or personal care.
She requested a mandatory reconsideration of the decision on 2 March, explaining her accommodation arrangements and clarifying her medical conditions, but received notification just five working days later that her request had been turned down.
She lodged an appeal on 4 April on two grounds: that the health care professional had not fully acknowledged the scale and scope of her physical and mental health conditions; and, that she did not live in sheltered/supported housing and enclosed a letter from the housing association which made this very clear.
A hearing was set for 8 June but the DWP sent incomplete documentation only a few days before on 1 June, so she requested an adjournment which was granted until 30 June. On 30 June the DWP again failed to supply the full documentation so the hearing was further adjourned to 1 August. However at that point it did finally acknowledge that it had misunderstood the type of accommodation she was living in and accepted the evidence to support her claim. However as she was disputing the level of the claim they refused to pay her at that stage.
The Research and Campaigns Team at Westminster wrote to the DWP appeals office on 4 July to ask if the PIP could be paid and backdated if the client no longer disputed the level. Several phone calls later, the client was informed on 22 July that her payment had been authorised and backdated.
This experience was extremely stressful and frustrating and the client had to rely heavily on support from Citizens Advice. Without its support the client said that she would not have had the strength to continue and navigate her way through the protracted process.
The successful outcome demonstrates how much can be achieved when the Research and Campaigns team and a specialist adviser work together to “put it right” for clients disadvantaged or treated unfairly when attempting to access their rightful benefits.