PIP claimant set to take DWP to court over refusal to allow him to use email

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A disabled benefit claimant is set to take the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court over its refusal to allow him to communicate with its civil servants via email.

Mark Lucas is facing a reassessment of his personal independence payment (PIP) claim next month, but is refusing to return his claim form by post because he does not think a paper-based system is secure.

He has asked DWP to allow him to communicate via email as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act, but says he was told this was not possible.

Now he expects to lose his PIP next month – he currently receives the standard rate of the daily living component – because of his refusal to submit a written claim form.

He has secured legal aid and a lawyer to fight his case and seek damages for disability discrimination.

Lucas, from Staffordshire, told Disability News Service (DNS) that he does not trust DWP to deal with benefit claims by paper because it previously altered a written statement he had submitted in 2013 as part of a jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claim while he was at university, and then accused him of fraud and fined him £2,500.

DWP eventually agreed that he would not have to pay the fine, he said, after he proved that a DWP officer had added a paragraph to the statement, but he also took the case to tribunal – and won – so he could clear his name.

Lucas, who used to work in IT, said there are ways to check that the contents of an email have not subsequently been altered.

Another reason for his wish to communicate via email is that one of the side-effects of the epilepsy medication he is taking is memory loss, and it is much easier for him to keep track of communication if done by email.

With communication via post, DWP can claim that a page of a letter was missing or the letter itself never arrived, he said.

Lucas said DWP used such tactics to “target people who cannot fight back”, by making it easier to force more disabled people off benefits, and so cut the social security bill.

He said: “They would not be able to get away with what they have been able to get away with if they allowed email.”

He added: “They are providing a service for disabled people. They should make the service as inclusive as possible.”

And he pointed out that he was able to provide all of his documents safely to the tribunal service via email.

He said that the way he was treated following the JSA fine led to a “mental breadown”.

He was denied PIP at the same time, as a result of the fraud claim, and was left “destitute” for a year while he cleared his name, forcing him to live off an overdraft and building up about £500 in bank charges that he is still trying to persuade DWP to reimburse.

He only had his PIP reinstated in December 2015.

Lucas said he is hoping that other disabled people who take medication that effects their memory will benefit from his court case if he is successful.

A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “We do not recognise this version of events. If Mr Lucas requires a reasonable adjustment he can raise this and it can be implemented for future correspondence.

“Claimants are entitled to request to receive all communications from the department by email on the grounds of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

“When such a request is received, it must be for a valid reason which relates to the individual’s disability, that is, the customer finds it more difficult or they are unable to communicate and use our services through usual communication and contact routes because of their disability.

“We would also seek to explore whether alternative adjustments (eg large print/Braille) may suffice, but if this is not possible then email communications may be agreed.

“We don’t email claimants as a matter of course due to the potential risks these pose to citizens and DWP.

“In addition DWP must operate within its legislative framework and follow our business processes including records management. Therefore email correspondence must be carefully managed.”

The spokeswoman was subsequently told last night (Wednesday) that DNS had heard a recording of a member of staff in DWP’s PIP department telling Lucas: “We will not communicate via email.”

The DWP spokeswoman had not responded to this further evidence by noon today (Thursday).

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  • MJ

    I too have asked the DWP, by way of reasonable adjustment, to correspond via email (or fax) because I am housebound disabled and cannot use a telephone – because of disability.

    I, too, was refused, in writing, on the grounds that DWP do not / will not / it is not possible to correspond via email or fax.

    I have over recent years emailed several times the complaints Dept, asking them to pass on my email to the Dept that I am trying to reach. It sometimes works, but just in recent weeks, I again have emailed the complaints dept – because of what appears to be significant over payments being made to my bank account, asking them to pass on my email to the ESA payment Dept. The complaint dept has not replied or acknowledged my emails! And another overpayment (£270) went into my account just this morning!

    Originally, and despite clear evidence from my clinicians, DWP put me in the work related activity group. While waiting for the Home-based Tribunal – which the DWP overturned its (flawed) decision the day before, so was cancelled – my community care solicitor was told by DWP that I would have to undertake a telephone work related interview with the local JCP, or I would be sanctioned. They said this even though my solicitor told them I couldn’t, and all my written evidence said I couldn’t, and my clinicians all wrote directly to DWP, saying I couldn’t, because I am housebound disabled and cannot use a telephone.

    • Suzanne de Quincey

      You will need to contact them by letter otherwise they will not deal with you. If you are housebound then get your carer to post the letter for you. If you pay £3 at the post office you will get a receipt for a recorded letter and you will know that the person you’ve ask to post the letter hasn’t forgotten to do it.

      • Stacey Riley

        Just wanted to point out that not everybody has someone to do this for them. Or someone they feel comfortable sharing this information with.

        Being housebound means that it would be very difficult to get to the post office.

      • The fact that they will not deal with people other than by letter is the whole reason for this guy going to court. It is discriminatory and makes it more difficult for all sorts of people. As well as being more expensive than email which is also discriminatory because disabled people are often even more financially burdened which is why PIP exists in the first place.

  • Spoonydoc

    I haven’t yet been transferred from DLA to PIP, but am concerned about the process as I cannot write and there is no electronic version of the PIP2 form.
    I have contacted the DWP many times about this from the moment PIP was introduced. I have categorically been told every time that I cannot contact them electronically, nor can I send an electronic version of the form. I must ask “someone else” to fill in the form for me, usually the mythical neighbour. I am less than happy about divulging all the intimate details of my disability to friends or family let alone a neighbour or stranger!

    • Rogerblack

      You do not have to fill in the whole form.
      I sent a form, with every box with a sticker on it saying ‘see attached letter’ – and attached a letter with the answers – in my case because they were too long.

      • Spoonydoc

        Thank you Roger. That is certainly one way round it. With the DWP I’m always wary of deviating from the set format in any way though! I’ll have to see what I come up with when I eventually have to claim PIP.

        • MJ

          I recall in my early years of DLA, one three-yearly review I was so poorly that I couldn’t complete the forms fully in time – even after receiving an extension. In the end, and for fear of having my award removed, I wrote down, on almost all answers, that it is the same as my previous review – and directing them to read the material from my review three years earlier. On parts where there was a change, I still directed them to the previous material, but then told them just of any new difficulties, or told them just of any difficulties that were no longer present.

          It was quite nail biting waiting for the decision, but DWP accepted it……not so sure the same would happen now though! I had though several years earlier been assessed, face-to face, at home, by DWP Dr (who was a lovely local GP). Perhaps that is why they accepted my review just directing them to previous review material….

    • Suzanne de Quincey

      You will have to get someone to fill the form in for you if you cannot read or write, I had to do a friend’s for them otherwise they will not sort your claim out. When you got DLA you must of had to fill in forms for them or use someone to help you so just use that same person.

      • Spoonydoc

        DLA could be claimed electronically and thus all answers could be typed. No one should have to rely on the good will or charity of someone else in order to claim an essential benefit. Nor should they have to divulge their private medical information in order to do so.
        The issue of the inaccessibility of the entirety of the PIP claiming process was raised before the benefit was even introduced. Promises were made that it would be changed. Nothing has been done.

        • TM

          Exactly, which is what I used to do.

      • TM

        I’m sorry to say but you just sound incredibly ignorant. I can do it so everyone else can, we all have different abilities and capabilities, people around us or not. Personally I can go weeks at a time not speaking to another human being and am dyslexic and also take morphine on a daily basis. Despite your assurances that everyone entitled will receive PIP I had my higher rate mobility taken off me. Or perhaps they were absolutely right and all of my consultants wrong. But leaving that aside it’s not just a problem of post getting through to them it’s also their post getting through to you.
        I’ve still not had a copy of my actual decision letter, still stuck in their mail handling system apparently. As for the mandatory reconsideration it happened without me asking for one and without me being able to provide further evidence. At this point 42 weeks in and no DLA money I folded or should I say crashed and for the sake of both my physical and mental health did not pursue to appeal.
        The biggest question surely is why can you not send an electronic copy of your PIP claim form and how does this address access issues when it was possible for DLA. Anything other than that is just a noise.

  • Suzanne de Quincey

    I don’t believe that email communication is safer than a letter sent by recorded delivery which someone has to sign for…Also if you number the pages you have sent in ie: 1 2 3 etc it is not possible they can say they haven’t received all communication from you especially if you photocopy it and state that you have photocopies. I am on extremely strong medication and also suffer some memory loss due to an accident yet I am able to complete these forms providing I write on my chalk board reminding me to do it and when to send it back by.
    We are becoming like the Americans…A let’s sue someone and see how much we can get!!!
    If you are really entitled to PIP then you will get it but you have to abide by the rules ie: send your damn form in and pay the extra £ 3 or so for recorded delivery if you’re that paranoid!

    • The article clearly states that this guy has already had experience of a DWP staff member who added a paragraph to the end of his submitted claim form and that this led to him being wrongly refused PIP and being accused and fined £2500 for fraud.

      He then successfully (but at considerable financial and psychological cost) fought this and had his name cleared.

      He is hardly paranoid. This actually happened. He knows and it has been acknowledged that email submissions cannot be alltered in the way that his physical submission was altered without it being very easy to show. Easier than it was to prove that the physical submission had been altered by the DWP.

      These are facts. Whether you believe in them or not. Numbering pages would not have prevented this from happening.

      This guy is not suing to make money. He is suing to get something changed so that it can be more accessible for all disabled people. There is no other way to get the DWP to make changes nor to get other organisations to make changes. The only thing that has any influence on them is whether or not something will cost them more or less to put into action. If they think they will get many people suing them then they may change their ways for the benefit of all of us in order to save themselves compensation payments/cost of court cases in the future.

      I for one know how exhausting and upsetting a court case can be and admire anyone who is prepared to go through that ordeal in order to try and improve things for everyone by doing so.

      • Suzanne de Quincey

        I am not saying what he should or shouldn’t do but the fact remains that the PIP department will not correspond by email and trying to take a government body to court is not only very expensive but ultimately leads to more hardship and disappointment unless they are very lucky!!!!
        I am very disabled myself and eventually after many face to face appointments (that I had to get private help and transport plus verification from my hospital consultants and OTs) I got PIP.
        I still think that the 79p cost of a first class stamp, a form filled in by yourself or someone you trust on your behalf, a proof of posting from the post office which costs nothing is something that everyone can do.
        The lady who lives next door to me is blind and deaf from birth, therefore communicates by sign language who also had one of her legs amputated a year ago can communicate with them by forms and postage therefore anyone can do it!!!
        No one is a special case because all of us that need and are entitled to PIP are special!!!

    • Jonno Raab

      Being entitled to PIP does not mean you will get it at all. Thousands of people have been turned down until a tribunal overturned the decision. The problem is the thousands who cannot face a tribunal or cannot get to the venue because their car and care has been taken from them. If you can use public transport then you are unlikely to qualify for PIP. I use email to contact ESA but they only reply if it suits them. Complaints are ignoredIf you can’t get to the shops to buy food that you can’t afford you die. I don’t even know my neighbours and had to move away from the area where I had friends. I can’t get out at all most days and I’m basically beginning the dying processs. Struggling to breathe, legs and feet swollen and useless and my new GP doesn’t do home visits. My ESA is about to be cancelled because I can’t attend a fitness for work assessment. So how am I going to get to the f***ing post office? Don’t tell me to contact the CAB or local DIAL, I live in Lewisham. There are waiting lists just to get an interview

  • Sheila Hawken

    It would be a reasonable adjustment for people who have Asperger Syndrome to be able to communicate by email,as many cannot manage to use phones as they need time to process what is said and to consider what to reply. Often they cannot speak to strangers at times. I have recently come across someone who was diagnosed as being at the severe end of Asperger Syndrome who was telephoned out-of-the blue about mandatory reconsideration, having had an appalling assessment by a paramedic. The claimant asked the DWP decision-maker to call back when his carer was available, but they refused to do so.and he was extremely upset and anxious and could not say all that should have been said and was not told he could sent anything in in writing. I He now has the ordeal of an appeal to cope with. where this very issue about the need for reasonable adjustments re means of communication being unacceptable., so the outcome of this court case is important.Also having to telephone to start claims is extremely anxiety provoking,as although the DWP says that the claimant can just agree at the start of an ESA application, for example, that someone else can do the application for them, they are still required to listen to a long warning at the end about fraud, which has resulted in complete meltdowns ,as people do not understand all that is said and just feel threatened. Not being able to complete PIP online deprives many people of reasonable adjustments,as they may need to use voice-activated software, for example. I cannot complete paper-based forms. We often have to write in for PIP1 FORMS,which is allowed, but then staff often are not aware of this and there is a delay in the claim.The new UC system also disaciminates against people with Autism,who cannot cope with going to the Joncentre, staff have no autism training and they cannot cope with the local council office either. Applying online has a strict time cut off and info is not saved. People who take a long time to process the questions cannot do it in time and there should be proper consultation with disabled people to ensure that all of the benefits processes are accessible.

  • Deb Jones-Phillips

    I fill in forms for those that cannot do so themselves. Email would be perfect for so many with disabilities, Aspergers, mental health who can’t leave home and have no support. The list of those it would help is endless. I ALWAYS photocopy every page of every form, and keep as reference, along with any ‘proof’ of sickness or disability. I then send it by ‘signed for’ with ‘proof of postage’ mail, as they have said several times over the years that it did not arrive (after waiting weeks for a decision). This seems to work, however, many people applying do not have a way to get to a post office to do this nor the ability to photocopy. Every other company uses email for contact, why can’t the DWP?

  • TM

    I’m so happy that this man has the necessary energy to pursue this as it is grossly unfair. I had to scan all the pages of the form into my computer and luckily had software that converted jpegs to word so could type the answers and print it off but I still had to physically get to the post office to post it.

    It’s clearly a discriminatory practice that is meant to put another barrier in front of people to dissuade them from making an application. I had an absolute nightmare transferring from DLA to PIP and also questioned the fact that I could not complete the form either electronically or communicate via email.

    I had to contact my MP who was about as useful as a chocolate fireguard but at least she did get a response from DWP. In it they stated I would not be penalised for handing my PIP form in late due to my dyslexia. Clearly therefore the DWP know that this is an issue and are seeking to mitigate by informing only those who question it with a little extra time.