With all Personal Independence Payment (PIP) payment claims set to be reviewed in a Government U-turn, UCan2 looks at disability costs and what support workers can do to help.
In January, 220,000 people suffering from mental health problems were due to receive higher PIP payments than originally predicted, thanks to appeals by mental health campaigners. This saw ministers drop a case regarding the mobility element of the PIP test, which meant a further £3.7billion would go to those with mental health issues who had difficulty travelling to work. The decision followed the November re-write of PIP legislation – where previous rules said that people can carry out unsupervised work if they are “unlikely” to come to harm – up to 10,000 people were expected to receive backdated PIP payments of £70-£90 a week.
Commenting on the announcement of the review, Philip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, said, “Many disabled people have lost out because of changeover from DLA to PIP, and we welcome the announcement that the Government is going to review 1.6million cases. We hope this doesn’t mean that some disabled people are going to have to attend yet more assessments.
“This review highlights the ongoing and persistent failures of the assessment process, which is badly designed and implemented. Huge amounts of tax payer’s money is being wasted on poor quality assessments which deny disabled people benefits that they qualify for – that’s one of the reasons the success rate at appeal is so high. We urge all disabled people who are turned down for benefits they believe they should get to use the independent appeals process.”
Despite the recent PIP court victories, many are still struggling to make ends meet, using food banks to support their household. In the 18 months prior to the latest Government review, over 200,000 people scored zero on PIP tests (eight points are needed to qualify), leaving many who formerly received the benefit without it. As a result, many have lost their entitlement to mobility vehicles.
Labour’s Angela Eagle, a former welfare minister, said, “It is deeply worrying to see just how many people are being written off and given scores of zero for their PIP assessments. This reflects recent experience in my constituency, where increasing numbers of people are contacting me in great distress after receiving scores of zero.
“This includes people that have received PIP in the past, and have actually seen a deterioration in their health since then. Under the Tory Government’s assessment process tens of thousands of people with chronic disabilities have had their payments removed, and many with mobility problems have had their vehicles taken from them.”
The review should see almost a quarter of a million people receiving more benefit payments – a much-needed relief to families who have been in severe financial difficulty.
With special adaptations and equipment also needed for homes and vehicles, and higher costs such as those for accommodation and insurance, in 2014 Scope asked people with disabilities how much extra they needed to live compared to able-bodied people, and their Priced Out report found that people need £550 more on average a month if they are disabled.
Hopefully, the tide of rising disability costs will turn when the PIP reviews are complete, and more new claims will be awarded. Meanwhile, vulnerable people are set to save the equivalent of up to two months of their annual energy bill from February as Ofgem’s safeguard tariff comes into effect for a million more people. The tariff will cap the energy bills of customers who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount – which includes many disabled people, low-income families and pensioners.
Citizens Advice found that people currently on a standard variable tariff, paying £1,260 a year, will see their bill reduced to just over £1,030 – the equivalent of over two months’ energy bills. Now Citizens Advice is calling on the Government to follow the regulator’s lead, by implementing a cap on energy prices for all consumers.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said: “From today, some of the most vulnerable energy customers will save hundreds of pounds on their bills. This is a welcome step towards making the energy market work better for consumers. Citizens Advice has long called for more protection for the poorest pensioners and families paying over the odds for their energy.
“The priority for the Government must now be to introduce a price cap for the whole of the energy market sooner rather than later. We want to see energy bills capped for the 12million people stuck on poor value default tariffs before next winter.”
The recent announcement on PIP reviews and the energy price cap are going some way to bridging the gap between poverty and affordable living for those with disabilities. But there is much more which can, and should, be done to ensure that disability costs fall and the most vulnerable in society are not left in need.
Help someone who is struggling with disability costs by checking the following:
Can they go through the PIP independent appeals process? If a claimant didn’t get PIP, got a lower level than expected or thinks their PIP award should last for longer, then within one month of a decision they can ask for a mandatory reconsideration. If this fails, they can begin a tribunal.
Have they compared household bills? Although energy bills are being capped, savings can be made on insurance, phone, broadband, loans etc.
Have they explored Council Tax reduction? The Money Advice Service says, “You might be entitled to a discount on your Council Tax if you have to live in a larger property than you would have needed if you were not disabled.”
Are they fully informed? Contact an organisation such as Citizens Advice or see Scope’s guide on disability costs and savings https://www.scope.org.uk/support/disabled-people/money to make sure the person you support has explored every avenue of disability rights, plus benefits and budgeting advice.
Can they shop around? When buying items for the house, visit charity shops and organisations who offer free goods for locals in need. Some will even deliver.
Do they need to register for a food bank? A simple internet search will bring up a range of local food banks. The Trussell Trust, FareShare and Salvation Army are just some of the organisations operating food banks and there were estimated to be over 2,000 food banks in the UK last year.
Do they know about discounts on purchases? See the Money Advice Service for more tips including VAT savings, free cinema tickets for carers and travel discounts.