Mum with crippling MS wins disability benefit battle over £6,087 a year PIP payment
Dawn Lancaster, who lives in Macclesfield in Cheshire, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a painful and exhausting condition that can affect movement, vision and thinking – in 1995.
The 50-year-old was given a "lifetime" disability living allowance (DLA) award in 2000 after being forced to give up her job in accounting.
But when DLA was phased out in favour of the PIP – a process that began in May 2013 and won't conclude until 2020 – Dawn was told she'd have to be reassessed for the benefit.
Despite being unable to walk and confined to using a mobility scooter, as well as struggling with fatigue and memory problems, Dawn's benefits were cruelly taken away in May 2017 when she wasn't deemed unwell enough to qualify.
Dawn took her case to an independent tribunal but it took seven months to find out she’d won her battle to get the PIP.
"It's bad enough when you're on benefits as people think you're scroungers," Dawn told The Sun.
"But then they try to stop people getting the benefits that really need it – that was the worst bit.
"I've got this condition for life, I'm never going to get better.
"We've had to go seven months without the benefits and it's been really difficult to cope as we only have the one wage coming in from my husband.
"I worked for as long as I could, and all my family have worked too – and that's what benefits are there for – they're there for you to claim when you need it.”
Dawn now gets a weekly PIP of £59.75 for the higher rate mobility element and £57.30 for the standard daily living rate. The tribunal also backdated her payments to when they were stopped in May.
How to appeal a PIP decision
You first need to ask for a “mandatory reconsideration notice”.
This is where the Department for Work and Pensions looks at the decision again.
If you are still unhappy with this outcome, you can then appeal to an independent tribunal.
You must send your appeal form in within one month of the date shown on the mandatory reconsideration notice.
Be warned that it usually takes up to six months for an appeal to be heard by the tribunal.
If you’re unhappy with the decision you get from the tribunal, you may be able to get the decision cancelled – known as “set aside”. You’ll be told how to do this at the time.
You may also be able to appeal to the may be able to the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) if you think the tribunal wasn’t able to give you proper reasons for its decision, or back up the decision with facts, or if it failed to apply the law properly.
"I've never been so scared in my life," said Dawn. "You feel like a criminal when you haven’t done anything wrong. It makes you feel low – it shouldn’t have to be like this.
"I shouldn’t have to be there in court – I've worked all my life, so when I can’t work you think I should be able to get my money."
Despite the ordeal, Dawn hopes her story will give hope to others in a similar situation.
Eight in 10 people with MS win their appeals, according to new research from the MS Society.
The charity says that in the past five years, independent tribunals have ruled in favour of 83 per cent of people with MS who disputed Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decisions on PIP after they were reassessed.
Meanwhile, the overall success rate for all claimants is currently 71 per cent, according to the Society.
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, says the Government needs to "fix" the assessment process.
She said: "Too many incorrect decisions are being made because assessors often ignore invisible symptoms like pain and fatigue, and they fail to recognise how MS is unpredictable with fluctuating symptoms.
"Instead of putting so many people through unnecessary and stressful appeals, the UK Government should fix the assessment process so that it accurately captures the realities of MS.”
Sadly for Dawn, she will need to be reassessed for the benefit every two years going forward.
"It's a horrible experience to have to go through every two years – to have to prove you’re disabled enough to have the money.
"I was given the lifetime element of DLA, which should mean I get the payments indefinitely. So the thought of going through it all again is a nightmare."
The DWP U-turned on its PIP assessment policy last year, announcing that people who are awarded the highest level of support under PIP – with functional limitations that are likely to stay the same or worsen – will only have to a "light touch" assessment every 10 years going forward.
Existing claimants will be told if they're eligible for this near their next assessment, although the Government said in December that it is still working out how the light touch process will work in practice.
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Under the new PIP system, more MS sufferers receive the highest possible award.
"Where decisions are changed, often further evidence has been provided. Since PIP was introduced there have been 3.7million decisions and of these, 5 per cent have been overturned at appeal."
Here's how to check if you're eligible for Personal Independence Payment, what the contact number is and how to apply.
We've also rounded-up the changes to Personal Independence Payment, the disability benefits helpline, eligibility criteria and the 2018/19 rates.
Plus, are you eligible for Disability Living Allowance, what’s the contact number, and is it outside Universal Credit?
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