Appeal Tribunal Personal Independence Payment
Yesterday I travelled 75 miles to represent one of our members of the society at a Tribunal. The member, one of our earliest members, suffers from the worst effects of Pernicious Anaemia, had been receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and, like all recipients of the benefit, had been told that the DLA was now replaced by the Personal Independence Payment, known as PIP, and that she would have to take a new assessment for the benefit.
Applicants for the new benefit have to satisfy new criteria to have access to PIP. These include:
- preparing or eating food
- washing, bathing and using the toilet
- dressing and undressing
- reading and communicating
- managing your medicines or treatments
- making decisions about money
- engaging with other people
Points are awarded on the outcome of the questions and the total number of points will determine whether the claimant receives the benefit. It’s a lengthy form that has to be completed and can be confusing. Thankfully help can be had from Citizens Advice Centres, but the main problem that patients with Pernicious Anaemia face centres around the fact that on some days he or she will be able to prepare food, read and communicate, make decisions about money etc. However, as we know, on bad days, when the fog is down, it may not be possible to complete these seemingly easy tasks. And that leads to the claimant having to decide on whether to answer the questions as if they were having a good day or a bad day – and it’s a decision that cannot be taken easily.
I suppose the best course of action would be to answer the questions as if the patient was having one of their bad days – like on the run up to their next injection if that’s applicable, but it would be necessary to make this clear in some way or another. In other words, be truthful.
There is a second component of PIP – the Mobility Component. If the claimant needs help going out or moving around the he or she may qualify for the mobility part of the benefit – but again, the decision would have to be made as to whether to answer the questions as if the patient was having a good or bad day.
The Appeal Itself
What about the Appeal itself? Well, there are good and bad parts. The worst part of the whole process is that all three appeals I have attended have taken place in a court of law. This is intimidating for people who have lived their whole lives making every effort to stay out of law courts; and then they suddenly find themselves being frisked by security guards and then take a seat waiting to be called to the court watching as lawyers in robes rush around carrying heavy briefs, ushers in gowns direct people, and everywhere you are reminded that you are in a court of law – even though you’ve done nothing wrong. And then you are asked to enter the court itself. You sit below an imposing ‘bench’ where three professionals who will hear your appeal will be sitting along with the Clerk of the Court. You have to look up while those listening to your appeal will be forced to look down on you. And even though the judge will insist that this is an informal gathering, you know that you are sitting in chairs usually occupied by those accused of wrongdoing. I had a strange thought yesterday; what if we three (the appealer, her sister and myself) were sitting up there, and the three professionals were sitting down here? We could ask them why the appeal had been turned down instead of them asking us why they should allow the appeal.
This sounds very negative because it is – it’s intimidating and overwhelming, and I wasn’t making the appeal. We were told by the Clerk of the Court that not all Appeals are held in law courts, but the three I have been involved with have been.
On a more positive note, all of the personnel involved were highly professional, friendly and, to a certain extent, sympathetic. The panel consisted of a Judge, a Social Worker and a GP and all did their best to make the hearing as informal and sympathetic as possible, they certainly made great efforts to be fair, but there was still that air of intimidation in the courtroom itself. Seated on the other side of the court was a representative of the Dept. of Work and Pensions. The presence of him was unusual but, we were told by the Clerk, did happen as the Dept. wanted to ensure that all hearings were conducted correctly.
On several occasions, I was asked by the applicant to answer questions that had been put to him but the panel made it clear that it would be better if he answered the questions. (Interestingly, the GP on the panel didn’t think it odd that the patient’s GP prescribed injections every other day and sanctioned the patient injecting himself).
At the end, the Judge asked me if the panel had a clear picture of the way the disease affects people and I was able to tell him that everybody, yes everybody with Pernicious Anaemia has to develop a Coping Strategy to manage the disease. What the panel had uncovered, by their questions, was the applicant’s personal coping strategy – the little bubble within which he lives out his life.
You may think this a curious thing to say as some patient continue to lead a completely normal life just as they did before any diagnosis. But think of it, even those patients who have no symptoms of the condition since, or even before their diagnosis, have to visit a nurse at least once every three months. That may be all that they have to do to manage their condition, their minimalist coping strategy, but they have to do so. Others, like the patient yesterday, and to a slightly lesser degree myself, struggle to get through every day and experience a poorer quality of life than healthy patients even though their Pernicious Anaemia is being treated – and nobody knows why. Think of this, when the member asked if I would be kind enough to attend the hearing my first question was “what time is it going to be held”. The answer was at 10 o’clock which was within my own envelope of being able to do things.
Anyway, after about an hour we were asked to leave the courtroom and wait outside. It was a tense ten minutes after which we were asked to return to the court where the judge told the applicant that the appeal had been allowed.
Suddenly the courtroom didn’t seem that intimidating after all.