A disabled campaigner who has been refused permission to apply for a vital disability benefit in a way that is accessible to him has begun legal proceedings against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Graham Kirwan has been told that he is unable to communicate via email as he attempts to claim personal independence payment (PIP).
Kirwan had previously been a long-term claimant of disability living allowance (DLA), but had his payments suspended when he failed to respond to letters asking him to apply for PIP, letters that he says he never received and that would not have been accessible to him anyway.
Kirwan, who is partially-sighted, has computer software that can magnify text, but it does not generally work with scanned or PDF documents.
He has been told by DWP to use the charity Citizens Advice to help with his application for PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age DLA – but he wants to fill in the form himself, so he can take responsibility for the accuracy of the answers.
And he points to DWP guidance that states that email is an acceptable alternative for communication for people with his access needs.
Kirwan says that while most people can fill in their PIP claim form with a pen costing just 10 pence (DWP provides a free envelope and postage), he has spent £1,200 equipping himself with the necessary technology to communicate effectively, as well as facing annual costs of about another £700.
He said: “In this instance the disability is being deliberately created by the DWP. I have no communication disability when allowed to use email and assistive software.
“Email is cost effective and creates independence, choice and control.
“Using Citizens Advice when I can do something for myself is using up their valuable resources and my limited time.
“Although they may be experts in the field of compiling forms, it only takes one mistake (by a first-time volunteer) on their part for me to fail to be awarded PIP.
“The responsibility would be mine, as I am forced to sign a piece of paper which I cannot be 100 per cent sure is correct.”
Kirwan has told DWP that completing forms over the telephone or through a home visit from a civil servant places him at a substantial disadvantage to other disabled people, while he has been told that forms completed over the telephone would still need to be sent to him to be read and signed.
He has told DWP in a legal letter that “the DWP system for sending and receiving information to blind and partially sighted people is at best ad hoc and prone to consistent failure”.
Kirwan, who represents Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living on accessible information issues, has already secured one legal victory over a government department, after a threatened judicial review led to the Department of Health publishing its first accessible information standard earlier this year.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the department had received Kirwan’s email, but she said she was unable to comment further because of the legal nature of the complaint.