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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: PIP ‘barbarity’ is so unfair on those who have suffered enough


Life is full of twists and turns. Sometimes for the better; sometimes not. A few days ago, I was contacted by a young lady who has had a traumatic past three years. In late 2020, she was involved in an awful car accident that changed the course of her life.

It was hard not to shed a tear. One moment, a mother carving out a successful career for herself in a consultancy firm specialising in environmental issues.

The next, unable to work, a mortgage to pay, and a young daughter to look after.

Her life literally turned upside down because of a driver coming out of nowhere and hitting her car almost head on – with her daughter in the back seat.

Although her daughter was mercifully unharmed, the full force of the impact went through Helen’s body, her knee bending the key in the car’s ignition. She has since been diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) which manifests itself in memory loss, slurred speech, tremors and walking problems. She has undertaken an FND rehabilitation programme – which helped temporarily – but she is also dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Trouble ahead: PIP, administered by the Department for Work & Pensions, is paid to those with long-term physical or medical conditions that make everyday tasks difficult

Trouble ahead: PIP, administered by the Department for Work & Pensions, is paid to those with long-term physical or medical conditions that make everyday tasks difficult

Only the love of her daughter and close friends keeps her on the straight and narrow. A compensation claim against the offending driver rumbles on while she now works part-time at the consultancy, albeit in a less stressful role.

Helen contacted me after Lisa, someone who works in financial services and who knows her well, read my piece last weekend on Personal Independence Payment (PIP). An article which prompted Lisa to scream out: ‘YES! Finally, someone has written about how horrific the PIP process can be.’

PIP, administered by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), is paid to those with long-term physical or medical conditions that make everyday tasks difficult. Although not means-tested, payments are subject to review – and these can be harrowing experiences, sometimes requiring a medical assessment. They can also result in payments being stopped, leaving claimants in the lurch.

Last week’s article followed a piece I wrote a month ago about a woman who received a DWP text on Christmas Day informing her that her PIP was being reviewed. She struggles with mental health issues that are controlled by epilepsy medication.

Upon reading the text, she went into meltdown, suffering a panic attack that ruined the festive day for her and her family. A Freedom of Information Request confirmed the recipient was not alone – 1,454 Christmas Day texts were sent by the DWP, informing people of impending PIP reviews.

Helen’s battle over PIP goes back to 2021. Initially, she was refused payment. She then asked for a mandatory reconsideration, only to be refused again.

Encouraged by Lisa who has had her own PIP battles in the past, Helen took her case to tribunal – and won. It resulted in a £500 monthly payment, backdated to when she first logged her claim.

Yet, as is the way with PIP, Helen’s payments stop in May, so she has had to reapply. So far, she has submitted medical evidence supporting continuation of the payment and has undergone a DWP assessment – a gruelling two-and-a-half-hour ordeal, which she found rather distressing.

She describes the assessment as ‘barbaric’, conducted by people who she says knew little about her condition. ‘It was if they were looking to catch me out,’ she adds.

Helen will soon learn whether her PIP will continue beyond May and is keeping her fingers crossed.

‘I am all for stopping people who claim benefits fraudulently,’ she says, ‘but the PIP review system is dehumanising.

‘It seems to treat everyone dispassionately and makes you feel undeserving.’

She adds: ‘Before the accident, I looked after multi-million-pound projects at work. Now I work part-time and struggle with technical documents, confidence, and processing information.

‘I used to relish telling jokes and making people laugh. Now, I can’t because I stutter and slur my words. I mourn the loss of the person I was.’

As for Lisa, she thanked me for ‘shining a light on the crazy system that is PIP’.

I sought a response from the DWP on the way PIP reviews are conducted. For the record, I wasn’t prepared to discuss Helen’s case for fear of inadvertently jeopardising her ongoing review – nor others that I have received.

The DWP said: ‘We were not provided with the opportunity to look into specific cases.

‘However, we support millions of people every year and our priority is that they receive a timely, supportive and compassionate service.

‘All disability assessors are qualified health professionals who are trained to advise based on all the available information – and support is in place for vulnerable customers at every stage of the claim process. Our providers [Independent Assessment Services and Capita Business Services] consistently exceed their customer satisfaction targets of 90 per cent for PIP. If a customer disagrees with a decision, they have the right to ask for a review.’

It also added that 99 per cent of assessments start within 30 minutes of the appointment time.

Maybe, Helen’s experience is the exception that breaks the rule. But people like her should not have to go through PIP hell. They’ve already had a lifetime’s worth.

Direct Line risks backlash as it axes cover for second homes

Direct Line has withdrawn from insuring second properties and holiday homes. It confirmed its decision after a reader sent me a letter from the insurer saying his cover would not be renewed at the end of March. 

The insurer told me: ‘Customers insuring second properties and holiday homes often have different needs to those insuring their primary residence. For example, cover is sometimes needed for extended periods when the property is unoccupied. Our cover is designed to meet the needs of customers insuring their primary residence.’

Idyllic: But owners of second homes or holiday lets will have to find cover elsewhere

Idyllic: But owners of second homes or holiday lets will have to find cover elsewhere

It said all customers impacted would be assisted in finding cover elsewhere. Owning a second home or a holiday let (I don’t, by the way) is becoming more challenging by the day. Councils are hitting owners with big tax bills, stamp duty costs are onerous (subject to a three per cent surcharge) and full-time resident neighbours can be hostile.

I trust Direct Line has thought through what it’s doing. Many second home customers also have their main residence insured with Direct Line, so they could react by taking all of their business elsewhere – as the reader who contacted me has done. Everyone loses.

Banking hub finally arrives 

It has been a long time coming, but the Leicestershire town of Syston finally saw its banking hub open last Friday.

Although the town was earmarked for a hub (a shared bank branch run by the Post Office) in late 2021 after the last bank pulled out, finding suitable premises has been problematic.

A temporary hub was opened in the town’s community centre late last year, but flooding meant it had to shut for a while. The premises for the permanent hub – the former Santander branch – were also flooded, pushing back its opening.

Yet it’s now up and running, much to the delight of locals. ‘It’s great news,’ says Rosemarie Collins, a 73-year-old Syston resident. ‘Like many of my friends, I prefer to do my banking at a branch rather than online, so a permanent hub is a boost for the town.’

Banking hub launches are as rare as hen’s teeth – 33 to date. Yet I am told there will 100 operational in bankless towns by the end of the year.

I’ll believe that when I see it.

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