‘Astonishment’ over disabled man’s PIP benefits results

‘Astonishment’ over disabled man’s PIP benefits results

28 November 2018

PRIME Minister Theresa May has been asked to order a root and branch review of the Personal Independent Payment system after concerns were raised about it by the Crossgar father of one of the province’s most disabled people.

John McMullan has question the PIP system in the wake of the approach taken to his son Declan who has Locked-In Syndrome — a rare neurological condition that means he is unable to control his movements, despite being fully aware.

Mr McMullan said he was “astounded” by the scores in a recent PIP assessment for his son who is “unable to move, talk, see or eat”.

Claiming he faced “ignorant questioning”, Mr McMullan said he feared what other disabled people might face during their assessments for the benefit, which is replacing Disability Living Allowance.

His son requires 24-hour care for the condition, which was triggered when his brain was starved from oxygen during an eight-minute cardiac arrest when he was 19.

When his father recently received a letter informing him Declan must be reassessed for the new payment, he expected the change would be made without question.

“The form was very easy to fill in because Declan can’t do anything other than blink. He is unable to move, talk, see or eat,” his father explained. “Doctors told us to imagine being buried alive — that is what Locked-in syndrome is.”

Mr McMullan said three weeks after he had completed the PIP form, he received a phone call from an assessor to ask questions.

He said the person who wanted to see Declan face-to-face displayed a “total ignorance” of his condition.

He said Capita staff — who carry out PIP assessments – wanted to visit and assess his son despite his severe disability.

Declan cannot speak but he can still communicate with his family through his eyes. He can also hear and has full understanding of what is being said to him.

The 26 year-old is fed through a so-called PEG in his stomach and he’s catheterised, but while he is tetraplegic, Declan still has feeling across his body, from head to toe.

His father — who is his full-time carer — has described his “shock” at the approach taken by Capita staff who work on behalf of the Department for Communities.

Mr McMullan continued:  “In my opinion, I supplied ample evidence of Declan’s disability but I doubt they actually understood what is on that paper. I don’t think the people assessing are fit to be doing it.”

While Declan achieved the full payment, his dad was shocked to discover that his son did not achieve full points for his daily living needs.

“Declan cannot eat and is PEG fed, yet the assessor only gave him six points out of 10 for the level of assistance he needs with eating and drinking. He cannot move at all, only blink, yet the assessor gave him just two out of eight points on whether he needs supervision or assistance managing his therapies.

“He got 2/8 for needing assistance making budgeting decisions and just 4/8 for needing support in social situations. If a GP is telling the government somebody is sick, who is an assessor to question the doctor’s judgement?” the frustrated father asked.

Mr McMullan continued: “How can a PIP assessor be properly qualified to override those doctors?

Declan’s team include occupational therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and psychiatrists. A PIP assessor can’t be all of that.

“I knew Declan was never going to be turned down for PIP. It was just the stupidity of the process and the fact even he did not get full points. Declan is probably one of the most disabled people in Northern Ireland.” 

Mr McMullan said he was convinced the assessors aimed to get as many people off disability benefit as possible and believed a bonus system made them “sales people in reverse”. He also asked how many times disabled people need to be assessed.

He added: “If professional people are providing professional evidence is that not good enough? When you are disabled, you don’t need to prove you are this disabled.”

Rowallane councillor Terry Andrews said the McMullan family’s story was the latest chapter in a “litany of failure” asking the government to simply listen to Declan’s story and that of so many others in a similar position who have made it clear that the PIP system is not working and is, in fact, taking people’s independence away.

He added: “I have written to the Prime Minister asking for a root and branch reform of the PIP application system, with a critical examination of how decisions are made and implemented. 

“It is clear there is a need to go back to the drawing board to bring forward a benefit system that is not only fit for purpose, but relevant to the needs of all those who are entitled to support.”

A Capita spokesperson said that the company was “committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP”.

“Our disability assessors are healthcare professionals with the required skills and knowledge to carry out PIP assessments across Northern Ireland and in line with the guidance set out in the PIP Assessment Guide,” a spokesperson said.

“We operate a robust complaints process for anyone that is unhappy with the service provided, including escalating the complaint to the Department should a customer feel it has not been satisfactorily resolved.”