Benefits system lets down Southend’s disabled as hundred of refusals are overturned, says councillor

New figures show disabled people in Southend are struggling to get the help they need with hundreds of benefits refusals being overturned by the courts.

Personal Independence Payments – worth up to £148.85 a week – were introduced in 2013 and are meant to help with some of the extra costs of living with a disability or long-term health problem.

But new figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows that 370 decisions made about people in Southend have been overturned in court between 2013 and the end of 2019 – 62 per cent of completed appeals.

For the case to go to court, claimants must first appeal to the DWP and then a further appeal needs to be made for it to go to a tribunal.

Councillor Matt Dent (Lab), who is a member of the people’s scrutiny committee, said it is a testament to the flaws in the system.

He said: “I think these numbers are very high and they are a testament to the flaws in assessment process which a lot of people have been talking about for a long time.

“In terms of the number of appeals it is also a depressed number considering the stress involved in going through the levels of appeal.

“The whole setup of benefits particularly for disabled people has been the cause of concern since the current system came in because it is difficult, bureaucratic and so often it seems to make decisions that defy common sense and this high numbers of appeals is testament to that.”

The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), said that unfortunately there will be some who do try to take advantage of the benefits system, but it should not be so complex.

“A lot of people out there will see a chance of getting a benefit and try to take it so I don’t know where you draw a line – people will try and bypass the system,” he said.

“Where that does happen, it hampers those who do need it by the fact they can’t get the money they need.

“But I do sympathise with people that need to seek help from government and the courts and I don’t think that should be necessary. I think generally if people need help they should get it and it shouldn’t have to goto court, which is like a sledge hammer to crack nut.

“I should think a GP letter should be the way to go if they say they have this health issue and can’t work they should accept that otherwise it is another layer of bureaucracy that costs more than the funding people are seeking.”

In neighbouring Basildon there have been 410 decisions overturned in the same period, the equivalent of 61 per cent of completed appeals.

A DWP spokesman said: “We want everyone to get the support they are entitled to. More than 3.6 million decisions have been made following a PIP assessment with just 5 per cent being overturned at appeal.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter