Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation

I am one of three people asking for a Judicial Review over the consultation for Personal Independence Payments.

The request for a judicial review is on the basis that the Department for Work and Pensions did not conduct a proper consultation for PIP and if we are successful then they will be ordered to start the consultation again. If a judicial review is granted than it should take place sometime in July.

The initial consultation for PIP used inability to walk 50 metres to define eligibility for the enhanced rate of mobility component. That is, anyone who could not walk 50 metres without the use of a wheelchair would get highest rate of the benefit. After the consultation ended it emerged that the goalposts had been moved, and that the cut-off point for high-rate mobility would be just 20 metres. Those who can walk more than 20 metres but less than 50 metres safely, reliably and repeatedly may qualify for a lower rate of the benefit.

We will be arguing that the DWP were required to consult on such a fundamental change  and that they did not provide adequate information during the consultation that did take place. We will also argue that the DWP failed in their duty under the Equality Act 2010 to assess the impact of the new regulations on disabled people.

This change will affect me personally, albeit probably not until 2015 when those whose DLA has not already run out will be transferred to PIP. Those who receive the high-rate of mobility allowance under DLA are eligible to lease a car from the Motability scheme. If this requirement is kept with PIP then as someone who can usually walk more then 20 metres but not 50 metres without pain pain and exhaustion I will lose the high-rate mobility component and will therefore lose the car that restores much of my freedom and independence.

Public Law Solicitors are taking action on my behalf while Leigh Day are representing the two others involved in this case.

Press are welcome to contact me by email on latentexistence at gmail dot com or through the contact link at the top of this blog.

More information will be at www.wearespartacus.org.uk

Please sign WOWpetition to demand a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform.


Press release from Public Law Solicitors / Leigh Day 08/04/2013

Lawyers have announced that they are taking legal action against the Government on behalf of three disabled clients who are challenging the decision by Ian Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and pensions, to bring in more stringent measures to qualify for the higher rate mobility benefit which the Government has estimated will result in 400,000 fewer people being eligible to claim.

The three clients currently receive disability living allowance (DLA) including the higher rate of the mobility component. This non-means-tested cash benefit has been available since 1992 and provides people with assistance towards the costs of an adapted car, powered wheelchair or scooter through the Motability scheme.

Under DLA a person is entitled to the higher rate of the mobility component if they are ‘unable or virtually unable to walk’. Usually claimants are considered to be ‘virtually unable to walk’ if they cannot walk more than around 50 metres.

The new Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (PIP) have reduced this benchmark distance to 20m.

Kim Storr has rheumatoid arthritis and other severe progressive conditions and her mobility is affected by joint swelling and pain. She relies on crutches. She currently receives DLA including the higher rate of the mobility component. Ms Storr needs an adapted vehicle to enable her to go out independently.

Steven Sumpter has ME, which has caused him increasing mobility problems. He can walk short distances with a stick, but is otherwise dependent on a wheelchair.  He was assessed as eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA last year, which he has used to lease a Motability car.

The third claimant is protected by an anonymity order to protect their identity.

Law firms Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors argue that a consultation process set up by the Government to reassess the benefit was flawed. The Secretary of State did not consult on the proposal that the limit would be reduced to 20 metres. This suggestion was only introduced after all the consultation stages had passed.

Consultees were therefore denied the opportunity to comment on the proposal or to explain to the Secretary of State how such a restriction to the benefit will affect them and their independence.

The 50 metres distance is widely recognised in relation to other disability benefits and in guidance on the built environment, to represent a minimum functional level of mobility.

Proceedings have been issued against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, claiming that the new regulations regarding the PIP payment are flawed and unlawful. They argue the policy-making process failed to properly consider the practical impacts the withdrawal of the benefit will have on people with significant mobility impairments.

Rosa Curling, from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day who is representing two of the disabled clients said:

“We have advised our clients that the consultation undertaken by the Secretary of State was unlawful. People were not properly informed that the limit might be reduced to 20 metres and had no opportunity to provide the Secretary of State with their views on this proposal.

“Removing this vital benefit to disabled people will have a devastating effect on many people’s lives and their ability to access and be part of our communities. The Secretary of State has a legal obligation to consider such impacts before deciding whether to limit access to this benefit.”

Karen Ashton from Public Law Solicitors who represents Mr Sumpter, said:

“What is at the heart of this legal challenge is fairness.  The extra costs of getting out and about for those who have severe mobility problems can be huge. The higher rate mobility benefit can make the difference between being able to do everyday things that everyone else takes for granted  – such as doing your own shopping and visiting friends and relatives  –  and only leaving the house for absolutely essential appointments. But the Government failed to mention the reduction to the 20m threshold in their consultations with disabled people and so those who are potentially affected have not had the chance to explain how devastating the consequences will be.”

ENDS

For further information please contact:

David Standard – Head of Media Relations, Leigh Day 0844 800 4981 or 07540 332717

Karen Ashton –  Public Law Solicitors 0121 256 0327 or  07812 165090

No wheelchair for you!

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

I wrote back in March about the death of the power wheelchair that I had been given and my quest to obtain a new one.  It was old but it served its purpose in letting me go further from home and use public transport without requiring another person to push my wheelchair. Since my ability to walk is fairly limited I do need a wheelchair when I am out of the house. There are four ways that I know of to obtain a manual or powered wheelchair.

  1. The NHS
  2. Lease one from Motability using the mobility component of DLA
  3. Buy one
  4. Get a charity to buy one

It should be obvious that buying one is not really an option for most people living on sickness and disability benefits. Many people who need a high end power wheelchair do lease one from the Motability scheme however that option is not available to those who already use their DLA to lease a car through the scheme, or who do not receive DLA at all. In some circumstances a charity might be willing to foot some or all of the bill for a power wheelchair. Specialist charities for certain diseases or impairments might do this although in practice most do not have this option either. In my case there is a charity that helps people in the area that I live in who might be able to pay for part of the cost of a power wheelchair for me but since charity funds must be carefully looked after they require me to need a wheelchair but be unable to get one from the NHS before they will help. That leads me to the main option, to ask for a wheelchair from the NHS.

Soon after my power wheelchair broke an occupational therapist referred me to Worcestershire Wheelchair Services and I was told that I would get an assessment but that I would have to wait a long time. In the meantime I bought a manual wheelchair using my credit card. I have a bankruptcy in my past because of my illness so that credit is at an interest rate of 34% APR.

I knew when I was referred for a wheelchair assessment that I would not qualify for a power wheelchair because I only need a wheelchair when out of the house but that was OK because once I had an assessment I could turn to my local charity. As I understood then from other doctors and therapists I should qualify for a manual wheelchair, although probably one with small wheels that required an attendant to push it because self-propelling a wheelchair soon hurts my arms as much as walking hurts my legs. (This is why I purchased a self-propel chair, since I would like to be able to turn myself around even if I mostly have someone pushing.)

Then, today, I received this letter from Wheelchair Services. (Click to enlarge.)

Letter from wheelchair services

The letter informed me that I would not receive any wheelchair from the NHS because in Worcestershire they are

“Currently only able to supply wheelchairs to people who meet higher level needs i.e. to those clients who have a permanent mobility problem, who are unable to walk and who require a wheelchair within their own home.”

So, because I can walk or stagger around at home, I will not receive any kind of wheelchair to help outside where I cannot walk more than a few metres or stand up for more than a few seconds – not even a manual wheelchair. They won’t even visit to assess me. There are also many people who need a power wheelchair but are unable to get one from the NHS because they, like me can walk to some extent around their own home. In a lot of these cases they would use a wheelchair inside if only they could fit one in their home, but because they cannot they too are denied any help from wheelchair services. I know of several people who are currently trying to raise funds through donations to purchase their own power wheelchair because of this.

I’m not too worried about this in my own case because I have the manual wheelchair that I bought, and I have my wife to push it much of the time, and I still hope to get help from a local charity. I am far more worried about all the other people who haven’t been so fortunate and have no chance to buy a wheelchair, no charity help, no car and no one to offer lifts. I struggle to understand the justification for the NHS in Worcestershire not giving a wheelchair to people who need one but only when outside. If applied nationally, this policy would trap tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, unable to go out to medical appointments, to buy food or to visit family and friends. I don’t know how long this policy has been in place in Worcestershire but I hope that it is the only area doing this.

Worcestershire Wheelchair Service informed me that their qualifying criteria have been this way for a number of years due to low funding. Worcestershire is not looking like a good place for a chronically sick or disabled person to live right now; Worcestershire council are planning to remove funding for care at home for a large number of people and send them to live in care homes instead. This is a huge backwards step, a removal of freedom for a lot of people and reverts to the old method of locking those with disabilities away from society. This policy on wheelchairs will ensure that more people are trapped at home and so require care from the local authority, which in turn may put them into a care home.

Are we as a country really so short of money that this is the route we want to take?