Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, said they are "urgently investigating"Wikimedia Commons

Anna Ward, an MML undergraduate at Emmanuel College, has been battling with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since April last year after they unexpectedly stopped receiving their Personal Independence Payments of £77 a week.

Although the process should take three months from start to finish, Ward explained they have only received a date for a home visit to assess their eligibility for receiving PIP benefits this week. This comes after Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner raised the case in parliament on Tuesday.

Ward was unable to do a year abroad, a compulsory part of the MML degree, due to a requirement of receiving PIP benefits stating that you cannot leave the country for more than 12 weeks at a time. Ward planned to split their year abroad into time periods less than 12 weeks long up until July last year, but had to end this arrangement early when the DWP cancelled their benefits in April.

Despite being told in 2017 that their benefits would last until the end of June 2019, Ward received another letter informing them that the benefits would actually end early in April 2019. The DWP told them they would send them forms to renew their benefits within two weeks, but Ward did not receive the forms until the end of June.

The DWP are urgently investigating Ward's case.

Ward explained that the forms are a 40-page booklet which you are given one month to complete. All the paperwork has to be done by hand, making it difficult for disabled people. Ward said they had to get someone to write the forms for them.

Once they had sent off the forms, Ward was handed over to the Independent Assessment Services (IAS), which is run by Atos Healthcare, a European multinational firm whose services are outsourced by the government, where they began “battle two”.

Ward’s request for a home assessment was denied; they were told they were a university student and so should be able to get out of the house to go to an assessment centre. They were given an appointment in an assessment centre in Haverhill, which can take Ward over an hour to get to, having to rely on public transport.

Ward repeatedly contacted IAS to tell them they would not be able to make the appointment and again requested a home assessment. When Ward became increasingly upset on the phone, they were put through to a suicide line, where a home visit was agreed. Ward emphasised to Varsity that they had not been threatening to take their own life, but that they had expressed they could not continue without their benefits, and needed them to live, to buy food, and to pay for their wheelchair.

Ward was appointed a home visit in October, 6 months after beginning the process of requesting their benefits. This visit was cancelled less than 24 hours before due to the assessor being ill. Their appointment was rescheduled to December, which was again cancelled because an assessor was not available less than 48 hours before it was due to take place.

Ward said they spent their Christmas feeling very stressed that they would miss updates sent by post to their Cambridge address and regularly called the Emma porters to ask if they had any letters.

Ward wanted to file a complaint in December, but said they never received the paperwork necessary to make a complaint, which they had asked IAS to send. Ward contacted Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner this January for help and support, who contacted IAS.

The manager he spoke to agreed that the length of Ward’s wait was concerning, pledging to investigate it further by classing it as a complaint.

Zeichner raised Ward’s “unacceptable” treatment in the House of Commons on Tuesday. At the dispatch box, Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, replied: “We are urgently investigating as this shouldn’t be in the case.”

In a press release Zeichner said he received an apology “following the exchange in the Commons”. However, Ward says they have not personally received an apology from the DWP and commented that “the apology given was to [Zeichner] and not to me”.

Zeichner said: “It shouldn’t take an MP asking questions in the Commons to sort out this kind of incompetence which leads to financial and mental stress for disabled people just trying to get on.”


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Ward only learned that Zeichner had received an apology and a confirmed date for a home assessment when Varsity contacted. Following this, they rang IAS on Wednesday and were told that they had an appointment for the 11th February which had been allocated to them on Monday, the day before Zeichner had raised their case in the House of Commons.

Ward was concerned that had they not indirectly found out about the result of Zeichner’s intervention, then they would not have contacted the assessment centre and found out about the new assessment date. Although IAS told them they were due to receive a letter, Ward said that letters from IAS can take a long time to process and don’t always arrive.

An Independent Assessment Services spokesperson told Varsity: “We are looking into this case however we are absolutely committed to providing a professional and compassionate service for each and every claimant.”

While Ward is pleased they have a home visit confirmed, they said the process is only about halfway through, and that they still have the assessment and decision to wait for, admitting that they don’t have “high hopes.” Ward’s previous benefit claim in 2015 was refused and they had to take their case to a tribunal at the Cambridge Magistrates’ Court. They won the case and entered a three year benefit scheme.

Between July and September 2018, 72% of people who appealed after being turned down for PIP won their case.

PIP is a government benefit scheme that helps people if they have long term ill-health or a disability, giving them between £23.30 and £148.85 a week if they’re aged 16 or over and have not reached State Pension age. It is run by the DWP, the government department responsible for welfare and pension policy.

Ward explained that gaining PIP was not just about the money but that eligibility for a lot of other support, including blue badges, and disabled railcard and bus passes, often ask for proof of receipt of PIP.

The DWP, PIP schemes, and the outsourcing companies that run assessments have faced much criticism; the Disability News Service reported last week that Atos did not make it clear that the disabled person must attend a face-to-face PIP assessment and the DWP lost a court case on Wednesday after it was found to have unlawfully discriminated against thousands of disabled people who were left financially worse off after moving onto universal credit.

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