Ministers have been accused of “wasting” close to £1m in failed attempts to challenge disabled benefits claimants who appealed decisions to reduce their support.
The government has spent £997,210 on appeals eventually won by people with the chronic illness multiple sclerosis (MS), a charity said.
The MS Society found that, in the past five years, independent tribunals ruled in favour of 83% of people with MS who disputed Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decisions on their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims.
Many were moved to PIP after they were reassessed from the old benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
The cost of challenging the appeals between the DWP and the Ministry of Justice was calculated by the charity using average costs for such cases between 2013 and 2018.
Dawn Lancaster, 50, from Macclesfield, was diagnosed with MS in 1995 and started receiving DLA in 2000, after having to stop working due to her health.
She was given a lifetime award of the higher rate mobility component and middle rate care but, after a reassessment in May 2017, had her support cut to the lower mobility rate and no care component when she was moved onto PIP. She successfully appealed the decision this month.
“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,” Lancaster said.
“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.”
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: “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.
“Getting these decisions right in the first place would have prevented close to £1m of taxpayers’ 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.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said the department was “committed to ensuring that disabled people get the full support that they need” and that under PIP, 52% of people with MS receive the highest possible award, compared with 39% under DLA.
“Since PIP was introduced there have been 3.5 million decisions and of these, 4% have been overturned,” the spokesperson added.
“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.”