PIP: The Disability Benefit Shake-Up Spotlight


PIP: The Disability Benefit Shake-Up

Peter Coulter assesses the impact of the new personal independence payment in Northern Ireland and hears from claimants.


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Transcript


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Welfare reform has arrived here.

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It's time to say goodbye to Disability Living Allowance,

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and hello to PIP, the new Personal Independence Payment.

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Good afternoon. You're through to the independent helpline.

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More than 100,000 people are being reassessed

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as they move across to the new benefit. Many are losing out.

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We're seeing clients who had DLA for life being

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reduced down to nothing.

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The title is Personal Independence Payment,

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and by taking away my car,

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they were taking away my ability to have a little bit of independence.

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But those behind the changes say the new benefit is working.

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It is light years better than the old benefit.

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We are getting more money to the right people.

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And that is a good thing.

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Capita is the private company managing the switchover.

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But how transparent are their assessments?

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And what if some are wrong?

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I thought, no, this must be some kind of mistake.

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There were a lot of inaccuracies.

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Tonight, Spotlight can reveal growing concerns that,

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on occasion, Capita have been changing or, as they call it,

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auditing their assessments, before submitting them

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to those deciding whether claimants should get the benefits or not.

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What this says is that either their words were twisted

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or some of the things in the assessment were fabricated.

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Thousands of people are now challenging their decisions,

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but who is challenging Capita?

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Certainly, Capita should be called before the committee

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for scrutiny in terms of the assessments that they provide.

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This is Martin Murtagh.

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He's 66 and lives in sheltered housing in north Belfast.

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His family have been devastated by dementia.

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Two of his sisters have already died due to the illness.

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A third is in a nursing home.

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It was so sad, and I usually break down when I talk about it.

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I don't know how I haven't broken down. I can still see them.

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I can still see them, as if they're sitting there.

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I don't want to forget them.

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In Martin's home, labels have been put up to help him to remember

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to do things,

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because now Martin has been diagnosed with dementia as well.

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Martin's sons take it in turn to look after him, but after seeing

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the rapid decline of their three aunts,

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they are worried about what lies ahead.

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Me and my three brothers, we all try and come down,

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try and... We take turns staying or cooking or helping my father out.

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I mean, it's all you can do, really, isn't it?

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Be there for your family in their time of need.

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I know it's going to get worse, but there's nothing I can do about it.

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Under the old system, Martin was on lifetime DLA.

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He has now been reassessed under the new system, PIP.

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Personal Independence Payment is much harder to get than DLA,

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because it places less importance on your diagnosis.

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Instead, what counts is how well you can function on a day-to-day basis.

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Martin comes along to this dementia support group once a week.

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I'm Lil, and I have dementia.

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I'm Martin, I have dementia.

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Through submitting a freedom of information request,

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Spotlight has discovered that more than 125,000 people

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across Northern Ireland will have to be reassessed

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to see if they are still eligible for benefits.

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Campaigners think those with dementia shouldn't have to go

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through the process of being reassessed,

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but almost all of them will.

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There's nobody around this table here trying to fool the system.

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We have dementia. Dementia, at some stage, is going to kill us.

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Most of this group are due to have their benefits reassessed,

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but because they look physically healthy,

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some are now frightened to leave the house.

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Some of our members are now feeling that they're too scared to

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go out over the door

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because somebody might shop them in

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for just going out and living their lives,

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and it's an extra stress and it's an extra worry

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to burden our members with.

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I'll just move this round for you.

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Martin is starting to go through the reassessment process.

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His family has found the paperwork very difficult.

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Some of the questions on it about the toilet,

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about the shower, about the dressing, the cooking,

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well, they must know if you've got dementia,

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or any sort of illness that you're diagnosed with,

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that you can't do these things.

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As part of the process, an assessor came to his home.

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He asked me, "Could you touch your toes?"

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He said, "What about the toilet?"

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Martin answered it - he takes me to the toilet. He showers me.

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They do the bath and the cooking.

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You being able to touch your nose or put your hands on your head or

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whatever, touch your toes,

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I mean, how is that relevant to having dementia?

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Martin relied on the money from his DLA for essentials.

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The money helps.

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I'm able to get a taxi, go to the shops and be able to get...

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I change a lot.

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With me wearing pads, I soil a lot, and I need a lot of bedclothes.

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I need a lot of clothes. I throw the stuff out.

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With that money, I'm able to get the things.

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I'm able to get the help I need.

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How are you doing, Peter?

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Hi, nice to see you again. How are you keeping?

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Simon Matchett used to live life to the full,

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but that changed when he felt something was wrong.

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It started just with tingling, like, pins and needles,

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and then it made its way up my arm.

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My doctor wasn't too sure what it was.

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Simon was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was 32.

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It was a shock to the system.

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The lesions that you have on your brain and spinal cord,

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they move around, so they can attack any nervous system in the body,

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so you don't know when or where, or how bad the attack can be.

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He had been holding down a full-time management job in Edinburgh,

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but as the condition began to deteriorate,

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he moved back home to a bungalow in Bangor, to be near his family.

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Simon was getting higher rate DLA

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and was able to get a Motability car to help him get around.

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He was worried about PIP as he had heard stories from those with MS

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in England who had lost their entire award.

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I was extremely stressed, and that is not a good sort of state

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to be in with MS, with it being a condition that affects your nerves.

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As we know, PIP isn't paid just because someone has an illness.

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What matters is how it affects their ability to do specific things.

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DLA was an assessment of your total circumstances,

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the difficulties that you have,

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and there was a good deal more leeway in saying,

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I've got difficulty with this, I've got difficulty with that.

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PIP is different because it has 12 activities,

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you are scored on what you can do with regard to those activities.

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Do you have difficulty eating? Can you manage the toilet?

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Can you dress?

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So, you have a number of limited activities,

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they look at your capacity to do these.

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Supporters of the new PIP system say the cost of DLA was spiralling.

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More than 200,000 people in Northern Ireland claimed it,

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costing taxpayers more than £1 billion a year.

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It was the Conservative government that introduced PIP.

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Justin Tomlinson is a former Minister for Disabled People

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and had responsibility for PIP.

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To be absolutely clear, the stakeholders

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and the charities do recognise that PIP is a better benefit than DLA.

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Through the introduction of Personal Independence Payments, we are

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getting more people accessing the higher rate of benefits.

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It is a much, much better benefit.

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It was never about cutting the money.

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It was about recognising there is a much wider

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spectrum of challenges that people face through their own

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individual long-term health conditions or disabilities.

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PIP was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016 and, so far,

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over 55,000 have applied for it.

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Getting PIP is quite a complicated process.

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Firstly, you'll receive a letter telling you that you're going

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to be reassessed.

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You'll be posted a copy of this form, which is called PIP 2.

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It's 40 pages long

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and asks you about how your disability affects your life.

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Then most people will have a face-to-face assessment,

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either at a centre like this or at their home, where the

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PIP assessor will interview them.

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If you're not happy with your decision, you can

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ask for what is known as a mandatory reconsideration.

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This is where you write a letter to the Department for Communities

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asking them to look again at your case,

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and you can provide further medical evidence.

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Finally, if you still aren't happy, you can bring your case here for

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appeal, where you'll face a panel of legal and disability experts.

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Jyl Frey-Pullan suffers from muscular dystrophy,

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an acute form of it.

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She's the only person with this particular type in Northern Ireland.

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She and her husband David settled here after

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he began working as a test pilot for Shorts in the late '90s.

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They volunteer at a Newtownards food bank,

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itself on the frontline of dealing with the fallout of PIP.

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We've seen an increase in people coming along to the food bank

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specifically because they've maybe been on high rate

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and it's been reduced to the low rate, so then they're trying

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to manage on that, or it's literally been cut altogether.

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So people are really having to come to the food bank

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because their DLA has stopped?

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Yes, definitely.

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Jyl has also had her disability reassessed for PIP.

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My legs are almost useless.

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This type of muscular dystrophy...

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..impacts on just about

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every body system.

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I'm just a carer for her,

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so I can't really

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go anywhere alone...

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..without the thought, is she all right?

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I have come back from being out and found her on the floor.

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Jyl had been on higher rate DLA.

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She qualified for a Motability car,

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which was able to hold her electric wheelchair.

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Capita, who won the £65 million contract to deliver

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PIP in Northern Ireland, sent an assessor out to see Jyl.

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She assumed she would transfer straight over to PIP

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because of her condition.

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My reaction was, she'll come in, she'll check me out,

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and she'll see that I obviously can't do a lot of things for myself,

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and I really didn't think there would be any difficulties at all.

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But then a letter from the Department for Communities

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brought a nasty surprise.

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I was pretty optimistic that it would be OK,

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but I prayed over it anyway,

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and I opened it up and I could not believe what it said.

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I was absolutely in shock.

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And I thought, no, this must be some kind of mistake.

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They're not talking about me.

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And...

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..realised, yes, they were talking about me,

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and things that were written in the letter,

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there were a lot of inaccuracies.

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The assessor decided Jyl was able to walk a greater distance

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than she says she can.

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She was given eight points, which means she did not get enough to keep

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her Motability car, which she'll have to return before Christmas.

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The report also said she managed to get up off a chair unaided,

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but the couple say that didn't happen.

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There was nobody more surprised than us

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when the first rejection letter came back,

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saying, "We have awarded you the lower rate of PIP,

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"but the higher rate is denied

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"because we don't think you have any mobility issues."

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At a mandatory reconsideration,

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Jyl's request for a car was again turned down.

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Like many others in the same situation,

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she is now waiting for a date for her appeal.

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Spotlight has obtained figures which show that more

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than 12,000 people here have asked for a mandatory reconsideration.

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But you shouldn't hold out much hope

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if you think your decision will be overturned.

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Spotlight has obtained a document which shows that

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only around 20% of decisions

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at mandatory reconsideration stage here are changed.

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During a mandatory reconsideration,

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the department is supposed to look at the case again,

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but Owen McCloskey from the Law Centre says Capita are being

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consulted during this process,

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and there is potential for a serious conflict of interest.

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They are asked by the decision-maker to consider

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new evidence, which may suggest, medically, they are entitled,

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and that's in conflict with their original report.

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If they determine that the subsequent further evidence

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shows that the client does have entitlement,

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then that would effectively be saying their original report

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wasn't reliable or didn't come to the correct conclusion.

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We asked the Department for Communities to

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appear on the programme, but they declined.

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In a statement, they told us that

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when a mandatory reconsideration is requested,

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it's considered by a different decision-maker within

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the department, but that they may ask Capita to assess

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the impact of any new evidence on the company's original assessment.

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But the main concern for claimants is that what

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they say during their assessments is not always being

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represented in the final report sent to the department.

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A serious issue that we feel that we've identified is

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the auditing of reports,

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and potentially changes being made to the report

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without clients being made aware of it.

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It's only if claimants appeal against the decision that they

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get a chance to see what Capita has told the department about them.

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Simon is one of those who's not happy with what's been

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written about him.

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There were things, as I said, like that, that isn't accurate,

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that didn't happen or, you know, I didn't actually say that.

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And a lot of the times it could come down to, you know,

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he said, she said, sort of thing.

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They made a decision about how far you could walk based on...what?

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Based on, basically, the corridor in the assessment centre,

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which... I stopped several times, and I did not make a straight

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walk down that corridor and a straight walk back up it.

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So, at no point did they see me

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convincingly walking 30 to 40 metres.

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David is also unhappy.

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He says what actually happened is not reflected in Jyl's assessment.

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Jyl can't get up from a seated position.

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They say they saw her do it.

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Now, that's just blatant lying. That's almost perjury.

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They say she refused to stand on one leg.

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She was asked to and said, "I'm afraid I can't."

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It just...

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Oh, it's making me angry.

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Even though Jyl is waiting for a date for her appeal hearing,

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she hasn't been shown changes that may or may not have been made

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to her original assessment by Capita.

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It's a problem the Law Centre says applies to all cases.

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We're looking for copies of each version of the report,

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so before and after it has been edited,

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and it may have been edited multiple times.

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We're also looking for access to the actual audit document,

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so where the auditor has assessed the report, they've identified

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quality issues and they've made recommendations for change.

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It's important that we see that actual document.

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The president of the appeals tribunal has sent this letter

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to Spotlight.

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In it, he says that tribunal members have expressed

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concern about the auditing practices.

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He says he has been in regular contact with

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the department about the issue.

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And he added that if not all information is made

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available at a tribunal, people can ask for the decision

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to be set aside and reheard.

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But after Spotlight put these points to the

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Department for Communities, they told us that arrangements are now

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in place to facilitate earlier versions of assessments being

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made available, an arrangement not in place in the rest of the UK.

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But what of Capita?

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We asked them to take part in the programme, but they declined.

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We sent them a series of questions about the people

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featured in this programme and about their auditing process.

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They said we didn't provide them with enough personal information

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to allow them to comment on the individual cases.

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They said they had a robust auditing process in place to ensure

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a high quality of assessments, and said their staff

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are healthcare professionals who are trained and empathetic.

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They added, if anyone had a concern about the process,

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they can contact Capita directly.

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Another fundamental question in PIP is,

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when is medical evidence considered, and who should provide it?

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Like all claimants,

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Simon was asked to give details of his health professionals

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on his assessment form, and assumed Capita would contact these people.

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It asks you for so much information.

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All the information about the medical professionals who help you,

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neurologist, doctor, MS nurse, occupational therapist,

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to which I later found out they don't actually contact them.

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Capita told us their official guidance says it's not always

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necessary to ask for further medical evidence.

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This is something that the BMA in Northern Ireland has noted.

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There does seem to be instances where there is no initial

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medical evidence sought,

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and we would only hear whenever the patient goes for appeal.

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That is the first time that medical evidence is asked for.

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In the midst of this confusion, some claimants have themselves

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been going to their GPs to ask for letters confirming their disability.

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Doctors say this is extra work,

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and some feel they have to pass the cost on to the patient.

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Dr Stout charges just over £30.

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Is it morally right that doctors could charge for this?

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I think that is something that is very destructive to

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a doctor-patient relationship.

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We're ultimately here to treat patients and to try and keep them

0:19:150:19:18

as well as possible, and to be put in that sort of environment,

0:19:180:19:23

with that sort of transactional thing,

0:19:230:19:25

is very uncomfortable for everybody involved.

0:19:250:19:28

Raymond Crowe is one of the few people in Northern Ireland to

0:19:310:19:34

have completed his appeal.

0:19:340:19:36

Following an accident, Raymond suffered facial injuries

0:19:360:19:39

which left him with a speech impediment.

0:19:390:19:41

He was also left blind in one eye, deaf in one ear,

0:19:410:19:44

and had to have a number of his fingers amputated.

0:19:440:19:47

He also walks with the aid of a stick.

0:19:470:19:50

Raymond had lifetime DLA, and qualified for a Motability car

0:20:140:20:18

and a care component.

0:20:180:20:19

After being attacked and spat on on buses, he says the car

0:20:190:20:23

was his own safe space and give him the confidence to leave the house.

0:20:230:20:27

But that car gave you a little bit of confidence?

0:20:280:20:31

He also had to go through a face-to-face assessment.

0:20:330:20:36

Despite this, in Raymond's assessment,

0:21:140:21:17

it was noted that he could be understood

0:21:170:21:19

and that he spoke clearly.

0:21:190:21:21

It was also noted that he had a functional grip.

0:21:210:21:23

Like Jyl and Simon, Raymond did not score enough points to keep

0:21:250:21:28

the higher rate that he was previously on,

0:21:280:21:31

under DLA, so has had to give back his car.

0:21:310:21:34

More and more people are taking their case to appeal.

0:21:350:21:38

There, they can present additional medical evidence.

0:21:380:21:41

Tribunal reps say they have seen a huge increase in demand

0:21:410:21:45

for their services.

0:21:450:21:46

Since the start of September, it has been flat out,

0:21:460:21:49

sometimes doing two or three appeals per day.

0:21:490:21:52

The group say many of the clients they represent have

0:21:520:21:55

succeeded in having their assessment decision overturned at appeal.

0:21:550:21:58

No-one we speak to is happy with the assessments.

0:21:580:22:00

Usually what they say is that either their words were twisted or that

0:22:000:22:03

some of the things in the assessment were just fabricated, you know?

0:22:030:22:07

The Government don't agree with this interpretation,

0:22:070:22:11

and say that the reason appeals are successful is simply

0:22:110:22:14

because people provide more information.

0:22:140:22:16

Quite often, the claimant will think,

0:22:160:22:19

ah, I didn't raise that, or I didn't have that,

0:22:190:22:22

and they have an opportunity to go away and submit additional evidence,

0:22:220:22:26

therefore the decision that was taken before was

0:22:260:22:29

right on the information provided,

0:22:290:22:31

but once additional information was provided, a different outcome comes.

0:22:310:22:34

Shea Ross is representing Raymond at his appeal.

0:22:340:22:37

Raymond has very physical disabilities, you know?

0:22:370:22:40

Someone, who, if an assessor were to look at,

0:22:400:22:42

it's quite obvious there are things he can't do for himself.

0:22:420:22:46

Raymond's best friend Jimmy says he was taken aback

0:22:460:22:48

when he saw what was written in the report

0:22:480:22:50

and found out that Raymond had been given zero points.

0:22:500:22:54

Totally shocked, because when Raymond is out and about,

0:22:540:22:57

Raymond has always someone with him

0:22:570:23:00

because of his communication difficulties,

0:23:000:23:04

his grip difficulties,

0:23:040:23:06

he has got no grip on one of his hands. No grip at all.

0:23:060:23:10

Raymond's case was baffling,

0:23:100:23:11

to think that he had ever to go to a tribunal.

0:23:110:23:14

Raymond is still deeply affected by the assessment,

0:23:140:23:18

and feels the whole process has completely belittled his disability.

0:23:180:23:21

What would you say to them now?

0:23:210:23:24

What would you say to the assessors and people now?

0:23:240:23:27

HE SOBS

0:23:270:23:30

Hey...

0:23:350:23:37

Come on.

0:23:370:23:38

At appeal, the original decision was overturned,

0:23:420:23:45

and Raymond was awarded standard rate care.

0:23:450:23:47

But this still wasn't enough to get his car back.

0:23:470:23:50

Civil servant Paul Gray was commissioned by the Government

0:23:500:23:54

to examine how the new PIP system was working in the rest of the UK.

0:23:540:23:58

I've recommended that, actually, as a default,

0:23:580:24:01

one should move to assessments actually being recorded so that

0:24:010:24:07

if there is any dispute on either side, there is actually

0:24:070:24:13

a tape that can be listened to.

0:24:130:24:16

Any of our advisers can help you through that process...

0:24:180:24:22

The Stormont Executive knew PIP would be politically toxic

0:24:230:24:27

and wanted to try and limit the damage.

0:24:270:24:29

They pumped extra money into services like this benefits helpline

0:24:290:24:33

when PIP was introduced.

0:24:330:24:35

It's handling thousands of calls a month.

0:24:350:24:37

People on DLA who are being reassessed onto PIP

0:24:370:24:41

and are worried about that and worried about the process

0:24:410:24:45

and how to fill out the forms

0:24:450:24:46

and worried about the medical assessment,

0:24:460:24:48

they would ring this helpline

0:24:480:24:50

and we can explain the process and help them through the process.

0:24:500:24:53

There's also been money provided to recruit advisers to help

0:24:530:24:56

with the forms.

0:24:560:24:57

Because they are new forms, it's a new benefit,

0:24:570:25:00

people are seeking advice on that, so we have extra staff

0:25:000:25:04

through the Welfare Reform Project in each bureau to cope with that.

0:25:040:25:07

Aside from this help,

0:25:090:25:11

money has also been provided to support people financially

0:25:110:25:14

through the appeal process if they've lost their benefits,

0:25:140:25:16

something that is not available in the rest of the UK.

0:25:160:25:20

If you lose your DLA and don't transfer to PIP,

0:25:200:25:24

you will get the same amount of DLA paid up until your appeal process.

0:25:240:25:29

It's to support people and save them

0:25:290:25:31

falling off a cliff face if they do lose benefits.

0:25:310:25:34

Simon was one of those who was helped with the payments

0:25:340:25:38

while he appealed his decision but, in the meantime,

0:25:380:25:41

he had to return his Motability car.

0:25:410:25:43

I was devastated, and my father came up to the dealer's

0:25:430:25:46

and dropped me home.

0:25:460:25:48

I just felt that, when I got dropped home, that was me.

0:25:480:25:51

I was into isolation status, as such, you know?

0:25:510:25:55

The title is Personal Independence Payment, and by taking away my car,

0:25:550:26:01

they were taking away my ability to have a little bit of independence.

0:26:010:26:06

You know, that I can do things for myself

0:26:060:26:09

and not have to be dependent on others.

0:26:090:26:12

After Simon returned the car, his mental health began to suffer

0:26:150:26:19

and he was referred to a counsellor.

0:26:190:26:21

Thoughts had bounced into my mind.

0:26:230:26:26

It had put me to the point...

0:26:260:26:27

Even when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,

0:26:270:26:30

I didn't have those kind of thoughts. I ended up just...

0:26:300:26:33

I didn't... I couldn't see a path, as such.

0:26:350:26:38

I didn't know what way life was going to turn out.

0:26:380:26:41

Capita reviewed Simon's case and stuck to their original decision.

0:26:420:26:46

The case was then reviewed internally

0:26:460:26:49

by the Department for Communities.

0:26:490:26:50

They awarded Simon the two extra points

0:26:500:26:53

he needed to be able to get another car.

0:26:530:26:55

He says he finally felt vindicated,

0:26:550:26:57

but feels he should never have lost it in the first place.

0:26:570:27:00

Anybody that I spoke to,

0:27:000:27:02

whether they be in the MS Society or family, friends,

0:27:020:27:06

any... Well, my own GP,

0:27:060:27:08

his own words were "utterly ridiculous"

0:27:080:27:11

that it was taken off me.

0:27:110:27:14

Martin, too, felt the whole process was stressful and unnecessary.

0:27:140:27:18

It put me into a terrible depression

0:27:180:27:21

and I actually felt suicidal with it, so I did.

0:27:210:27:25

I actually have the key for his medicine cabinet

0:27:250:27:27

so he can't get into his tablets.

0:27:270:27:30

It's how worried... It was that extreme at one point.

0:27:300:27:33

I could see the stress and anxiety it caused my father,

0:27:330:27:38

and the diagnosis itself, there is no cure, so I mean, why was it

0:27:380:27:42

even necessary for that fella to come out to assess my father?

0:27:420:27:46

I just thought it was a waste of time.

0:27:460:27:48

Martin was eventually awarded PIP,

0:27:480:27:51

but as there are no more lifetime awards, he has been told

0:27:510:27:54

he will have to be reassessed when he is 76, in ten years.

0:27:540:27:59

When carrying out the reviews for the Government, Paul Gray says

0:27:590:28:02

he found that the public had little faith in this new system.

0:28:020:28:05

What my conclusion in the second review was that public

0:28:070:28:11

trust and confidence was a long way short of what you need for people

0:28:110:28:17

to feel confident that the system is operating fairly and consistently,

0:28:170:28:23

and the sort of things that I was seeing and observing

0:28:230:28:27

were the high level of disputes around initial decisions,

0:28:270:28:33

and the very high upholding rates,

0:28:330:28:36

particularly for those cases that went to appeal.

0:28:360:28:40

Supporters of PIP insist they have designed a better benefit,

0:28:400:28:43

which is helping those most in need.

0:28:430:28:46

Is it hard for you hearing these horror stories of people who have

0:28:460:28:50

just had such negative experiences going through the system?

0:28:500:28:53

-We don't want anybody to have a negative experience...

-People do.

0:28:530:28:57

Oh, absolutely, but the reality is that there were horror stories

0:28:570:29:01

under DLA, and there were far more.

0:29:010:29:04

The PIP process is recognised to be much more thorough,

0:29:040:29:07

much more able to identify individual challenges.

0:29:070:29:11

It means we're spending £3 billion a year more,

0:29:110:29:14

so more money is going to some of the most vulnerable

0:29:140:29:17

people in society, but it's not a completed project.

0:29:170:29:20

With PIP still in its early stages in Northern Ireland, Paul Gray

0:29:200:29:24

thinks the project should be reviewed

0:29:240:29:26

before it gets much further.

0:29:260:29:28

Since my reviews didn't cover Northern Ireland, yes,

0:29:280:29:31

I think it would be a very good idea for somebody to take a look at that.

0:29:310:29:35

Spotlight has been told by the Information Commissioner that

0:29:350:29:38

they've received a number of complaints about Capita

0:29:380:29:41

and the department. We've obtained figures which show

0:29:410:29:44

that of those in Northern Ireland who have applied to

0:29:440:29:47

transfer from DLA to PIP, over 35% have had their benefits

0:29:470:29:51

disallowed on the basis of their initial assessment.

0:29:510:29:54

So far, just over 1,000 people have completed the full appeals process,

0:29:540:29:58

of whom well over one in three have been successful.

0:29:580:30:02

As PIP continues to roll out,

0:30:020:30:04

Universal Credit is the next big change on the horizon.

0:30:040:30:06

Over the next six months,

0:30:060:30:08

thousands will be affected by changes to their benefits,

0:30:080:30:11

and it may be that the problems with PIP prove to be just

0:30:110:30:14

the tip of the iceberg.

0:30:140:30:16

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