People living with the debilitating condition Multiple Sclerosis (MS) win more than four in five tribunals against government attempts to lower their benefit payments.
The MS Society, a leading charity working with those with the disease, has accused the government of wasting money by taking MS sufferers to tribunals in an attempt to have their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) levels reduced.
According to the charity, in the last five years MS sufferers who go to a tribunal over payment disputes win their cases 83% of the time – 12% higher than the typical success rate against the Department for Work and Pensions DWP.
The MS Society say the DWP and the Ministry of Justice have spent an estimated £997,210 on appeals that have been won by MS sufferers who have lost out on benefit payments since being switched from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the PIP.
Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, says: “We are consistently hearing from people with MS about how distressing and draining it is to lose support and then spend months fighting to get it back.
“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.”
The charity highlights the case of 50-year-old Dawn Lancaster from Macclesfield who was diagnosed with MS in 1995 and first received DLA in 2000 when she had to quit work due to ill health.
After reassessing Ms Lancaster for PIP in May 2017, DWP cut her allowance. But by December 2017 Ms Lancaster had appealed the cut and won her case.
She says: “Having to go through this made me feel the lowest of the low. I felt so guilty for having an illness through no fault of my own.
“The stress of appealing put me in a right state, I had to see a doctor because it made me so poorly. For months I couldn’t do anything but sleep – the fatigue and depression paralysed me.
“I think PIP would be a much fairer system if the assessors understood how unpredictable MS is. I don’t think they realise that with MS you can walk in looking fine one day then the next day you’re so ill you can’t leave your bed. With MS you just never know.”
Edwards adds: “Getting these decisions right in the first place would have prevented close to £1m of tax payers’ money being wasted. 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.”
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The charity is calling on the government to review its PIP assessment process to ensure taxpayer cash is not wasted defending appeals, and correct decisions are made the first time around.
Moneywise has contacted DWP for comment. A DWP spokesperson says: “We’re committed to ensuring that disabled people get the full support that they need, and under PIP 52% of people with MS receive the highest possible award, compared with 39% under the previous benefit DLA.
"Since PIP was introduced there have been 3.7 million decisions made and of these, 5% have been overturned.
“We work closely with organisations such as the MS Society to ensure that PIP is working in the best way possible, and we recently announced that people with the most severe, life-long conditions will no longer have to attend regular reviews for PIP.”