A disabled woman who was driven to extreme distress and suicidal thoughts by the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make reasonable adjustments for her disability benefit claim has secured more than £6,000 in compensation.
DWP repeatedly refused to make the adjustments needed by Jeanine Blamires after it began transferring her from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP) in September 2019.
She asked for communication via letter or email, because she struggles to speak on the phone due to her impairments, and for the face-to-face PIP assessment to be recorded, because of her memory loss.
She also said she would need to have someone with her if they did need to phone her, in case her voice stopped working, while she said she might need to move the assessment date due to ill-health, pain and chronic fatigue.
Speaking on the phone causes her stress and extreme fatigue, and aggravates her physical and mental health conditions, impacting her depression, chronic fatigue and muscle spasms.
But she said her requests for reasonable adjustments led to DWP and its contractor Atos passing responsibility to each other.
Atos told her she would have to provide her own specialist recording equipment – at a cost of £1,400 – and that Atos “don’t do email”, while requests for reasonable adjustments had to be dealt with by DWP.
When she contacted DWP, she was told the responsibility for reasonable adjustments lay with Atos.
After Atos told her again, in November 2019, that it would not be able to make the reasonable adjustments she had requested, her mental health began to deteriorate.
She said: “I was extremely distressed that I would be assessed as ineligible for PIP due to the lack of reasonable adjustments that I had requested.
“I was scared and distressed that I would have no way of challenging a PIP assessment because I would be unable to remember what had happened during the assessment without the assessment being recorded.”
A planned home assessment in January 2020 by Atos had to be abandoned because of the lack of recording equipment, although an Atos manager promised to provide her with a note-taker when the assessment eventually took place.
But a telephone assessment planned for June 2020 also had to be cancelled the day before it was due to take place because Atos told her it could not be recorded and it had failed to arrange for a note-taker to attend the assessment.
The second abandoned assessment left her – again – extremely distressed.
Two months later, Blamires, who has twice given evidence about disability discrimination to parliamentary committees, was awarded PIP without the need for an assessment, based on the written evidence she had provided.
She took legal action against DWP under the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act, with the assistance of legal firm Deighton Pierce Glynn.
She described in legal documents how she had experienced “difficulty speaking, an exacerbation of muscle spasms and fatigue, deterioration to her physical health and a significant deterioration to her mental health including suffering suicidal intent and exacerbating her depression” because of the way she had been treated by DWP.
DWP settled the case by awarding her £6,500 in compensation.
Blamires told Disability News Service (DNS) she was “appalled” at how she had been treated, but that she was also “extremely worried” about how DWP would treat other disabled people who need reasonable adjustments, including members of her own family.
She added: “I’m frightened that, despite this, when I next need an assessment, they will refuse again to provide reasonable adjustments.
“I was shocked by their behaviour. It’s like they had no understanding of their duties under the Equality Act.
“The constant threat of losing your benefits if you don’t or can’t comply with what they want, while they simultaneously make it so you can’t do what they want, it’s terrifying.”
She said DWP was still refusing to contact her via email as a reasonable adjustment, even after the case had been settled.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of people every year and our priority is they get the benefits they are entitled to as soon as possible and they receive a supportive and compassionate service.
“We apologise to Ms Blamires for the inconvenience caused and following this case, have put in place new staff training and guidance.”
Atos – which will lose its final assessment contracts next year – said it could not comment on the legal action because it was not involved in the case, and it said it no longer holds any information on her assessment.
But an Atos spokesperson said in a statement: “We make every effort to accommodate requests for reasonable adjustments within the guidance provided to us by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“After DWP’s personal independence payment assessment guide was updated in April 2022, we now offer audio recording for face-to-face and telephone consultations if individuals let us know in advance and all claimants are free to make a recording of their assessment on their own device.”
*Jeanine Blamires has functional neurological disorder (FND) and has asked DNS to include a link to the charity FND Action, which was founded by campaigners with the condition
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