The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to help a disabled woman who was unable to appeal against the rejection of her disability benefit claim because she had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Dee Daniels was left “pauperised” when her personal independence payment (PIP) application was rejected in 2018, leaving her without enough money to pay for her rent, food and bills.
The process caused her such distress and trauma that she had a relapse and “dropped off the radar”, stopped taking her medication and “roamed the streets aimlessly”.
She believes she could easily have ended up as another DWP fatality but was eventually sectioned and received inpatient treatment in hospital, where she developed a pulmonary embolism in both lungs and nearly died.
During this time, she had failed to ask DWP for a mandatory reconsideration (MR) of her claim as she was too unwell to deal with any correspondence.
When she was eventually well enough to seek the benefits she was owed, DWP told her she had missed the 13-month deadline for an MR and refused to reconsider that decision, despite being told that she had been in such mental distress that she had been sectioned.
Daniels had been a long-term claimant of disability living allowance before being told to apply for PIP in 2018 by DWP.
But following a face-to-face assessment by the private sector contractor Atos, a DWP decision-maker awarded her zero points and stopped her benefits in November 2018, even though she continued to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) as she was not considered fit for work.
It was not until she was finally assessed months later in hospital after being sectioned, and was found to be destitute, that she reapplied for PIP in September 2019.
She was rejected again, but she was finally awarded PIP at the enhanced rates for daily living and mobility after a mandatory reconsideration, and she was again awarded the highest rates when re-assessed last November.
But because she never had a mandatory reconsideration of the rejection of her initial PIP claim, she is now unable to take her case to a benefit tribunal for repayment of the PIP she did not receive between November 2018 and September 2019.
Daniels said her case highlighted the “unfairness” of the system, and she believes that DWP has discriminated against her as someone with mental distress, and a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and other impairments.
She is still in debt now, and she is seeking a welfare rights expert to help her claim the money she believes she is entitled to*.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I feel very let down by the system and discriminated against.
“Had it not been for the nurses at the hospital who helped me apply for PIP again, I probably would not be receiving it now.”
She said DWP had failed to explain how in 2018 she was eligible for the ESA support group but not for any PIP.
She said: “When I scored zero for PIP I felt crushed and abandoned.
“I was so stressed, depressed, full of anxiety and fear as my debts mounted that I couldn’t cope.
“Eventually I had a relapse, was hospitalised, and developed a pulmonary embolism in both lungs.
“I nearly died, had to be resuscitated by doctors in accident and emergency and spent months in hospital.
“The nature of my illness, it makes it so difficult to deal with correspondence, DWP forms and processes.
“I’m still recovering, deeply anxious and afraid.”
Her case was taken up by her MP, Labour’s Wes Streeting, who wrote to the department.
The then minister for disabled people, Claire Coutinho, told Streeting in her response to his letter last October that the time limit for MRs can be extended if the DWP decision is “erroneous in law” but she insisted that that was not the case with Daniels’ claim and so there was “no right of appeal”.
She added: “I can assure you that it is not doubted that there had been a deterioration in Miss Daniels’ mental health.
“However, decisions have to be made on the basis of the evidence presented at a point in time, with subsequent changes considered accordingly.”
She said there had to be MR time limits “to ensure that the Department has an effective decision-making process” and so the November 2018 decision “will not be reconsidered”.
Streeting told Daniels that he was “shocked and frustrated” with the department’s refusal to “exercise the discretion that is very clearly required in your case”.
He added: “The very reasons you qualify for PIP today show that you could not have been expected to meet the deadline, and I am stunned that the Minister has not accepted this.”
A DWP spokesperson told DNS: “We have nothing to add to the correspondence from the minister which sets out the case details.”
*If any welfare rights organisation can help with her claim, please contact Disability News Service
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