A disabled lawyer has launched a ground-breaking legal case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over his claim that it deliberately discriminated against him in rejecting his claim for disability benefits.
Daniel Donaldson (pictured), founder of the Scottish social enterprise law firm Legal Spark, believes DWP has chosen to discriminate against him and other people with mental health conditions in the way it has dealt with their personal independence payment (PIP) claims.
He says DWP disregarded the evidence relating to his mental health – and focused instead on other impairments – and made no attempt to seek medical evidence about his mental health from his GP, while his assessor lied about his medication.
He believes, like many other disabled campaigners, that the system uses people without the right training and qualifications to assess PIP claims.
He said: “The DWP refused to accept anything from me, and thereafter I had to appeal and wait.
“In the meantime, debt, frustration and stress ensued. My health deteriorated – they actually made it worse.”
He believes that people with unseen impairments, such as mental health conditions, have been “left playing second fiddle” in the PIP claims process.
Donaldson points to the recent legal case in which the high court found that regulations that came into force last year were “blatantly discriminatory” because they meant that people who were unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress would receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for PIP.
DWP later decided not to appeal against that court decision.
Donaldson said he hoped that other PIP claimants in Scotland, and across England and Wales, will follow his lead and take legal action if he is successful, which he believes “would make DWP think twice before playing a discrimination game”.
He had been receiving PIP from 2013 until it was removed following a reassessment in November 2016.
It was only reinstated last October, after he took his appeal to the social security tribunal.
It was, he said, a “year of hell”, in which he fell into debt and struggled to maintain his independence.
His case will be heard by Glasgow Sheriff Court, and he is seeking nearly £5,000 in damages, to cover bank charges, the removal of his bus pass, and £4,000 in compensation for the discrimination.
Donaldson is also taking legal action under the Equality Act against the Scottish government, because it failed to take on responsibility for PIP from DWP when it had the powers to do so from 2016.
Although the Scottish parliament last week approved legislation to set up a new social security system for Scotland – which will include the delivery of PIP and other benefits – Donaldson says it should have done this sooner.
He said: “The Scottish government must take urgent action to stop the discrimination in the administration of PIP.
“To ignore the problem and place the blame elsewhere is totally unacceptable.”
Donaldson also argues that the Scottish government should have altered the eligibility for free bus passes to ensure that claimants could continue to use them while appealing against losing their PIP.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We cannot comment on this individual case as the legal action is ongoing.
“We’re absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions get the right support they need, and we want every person to feel they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.
“Everyone has the right to appeal a decision if they are unhappy and additional information can be provided to support a claim.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “We have repeatedly called on the UK government to halt the roll-out of PIP in Scotland, most recently following the report of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which called for a review of PIP due to the damage it is causing people.
“When the Scottish government begin delivery of disability benefits, we have categorically ruled out requiring anyone to undergo a disability benefit assessment by the private sector.
“We will also listen to the independent disability and carers benefits expert advisory group and our experience panels to ensure our system is fairer.
“We want to remove unnecessary barriers to those entitled to make a claim and reduce the amount of face-to-face assessments carried out.”
He had not commented on the bus pass issue by noon today (Thursday).
Donaldson said the UK government had created “a hostile and degrading environment for disabled people” by “using public policy to strip people of their statutory entitlement to benefits”, including PIP and employment and support allowance (ESA).
He said: “The ESA payments are a lifeline for disabled people who cannot work or cannot find suitable work.
“PIP is there to support disabled people who require financial support to maintain their independence. They are statutory entitlements.”
He said the only way the government can avoid paying “this essential support is by denying all the evidence that is put before them”.
He added: “This is why the majority of cases are overturned on appeal at the social security tribunal.
“There is no place for disability discrimination in the provision of public services, and it is important that both the UK and Scottish governments are reminded of that.”