Not so long ago, I received the dreaded brown DWP envelope. Fully expecting yet more bad news, I tore open the envelope ready to rip up the letter and fling it in the bin. The letter informed me that in light of my second complaint against my second assessment together with new medical evidence, the DWP was now awarding me the enhanced rate for the daily living and mobility components of PIP. My 8 month battle against the DWP had finally paid off.
My story begins in August 2016. I already had the lowest rate of the mobility element of PIP due to my ME, which had got a lot worse. My wife now needed to cook and prepare all my meals, and to push me round in a wheelchair etc. I had been on sick leave from my job for several months and knew that it was very unlikely that I would return. I told the DWP that my illness had got worse and wanted a review of my PIP award.
In early November, my wife and I went to the local PIP assessment centre by taxi which dropped us outside the entrance. After a short wait, we were greeted by the health professional who was going to carry out my assessment. Once inside the consultation room, she started firing questions at me. I tried in vain to explain how my illness affected me and asked for time at the end to give more medical evidence. I was ignored and told we could deal with this later. The health professional fired one seemingly leading question after another at me. When she did not get the response she wanted, she would repeat the question again and I would try and repeat my initial answer. The question would be asked again until she got a response that she wanted.
After about 15 minutes, my wife interjected and said “My husband has answered your questions so stop asking him it again and again”. This comment was ignored as the health professional persisted with her approach. After half an hour, I asked for a break to take some painkillers and ribose, which helps with energy production. I was now so very fatigued that I had my head in my hands resting on the desk of the health professional.
The questions continued unabated. She didn’t stop to ask if I was in pain or feeling unwell. My wife began to answer questions for me as I was struggling to comprehend the questions due to overwhelming fatigue. By the end of the assessment, I felt as if I’d been in a fight and just had one desire: to go home to bed and take more painkillers. The health professional watched me shuffle out of the building and into the taxi waiting outside.
A month later, I received the dreaded brown envelope informing me that I was not entitled to any element of PIP and with aids I could cook a 3 course meal, walk up Ben Nevis and run my own business. You get the picture. With the help of the local Citizens Advice Bureau and my family, I prepared my Mandatory Reconsideration letter that included further medical evidence and sent it off expecting to be turned down. A month later another brown envelope arrived turning down my reconsideration.
Another trip to the Citizens Advice Bureau and we filled in the form for an appeal. At the same time, I wrote a letter of complaint that explained in detail everything that was wrong in the health professionals report. It also pointed out the omissions of things that I remember I had told the health professional.
Christmas came and went as I waited for the DWP to respond to my appeal and letter of complaint. It got to late January and I could wait no longer. I rang up the DWP, only to be told they had no record of my letter of complaint. I was told to send it again. Meanwhile, my employer dismissed me on the grounds of ill-health to round off a miserable month.
In mid-February, I received 2 short phone calls from different Atos managers who never gave their names, and informed me that my assessment in November was not up to the ‘high standards’ that Atos expects of its employees. The issues raised in my letter of complaint were never mentioned. I was told that Atos had decided to let me have a second assessment, this time at my home in mid-March.
In the build up to the home visit, I was filled with anxiety, hoping that this time I would be given a fair hearing. On the day, my wife greeted the health professional who came into our living room. He identified himself as a paramedic. He expressed regret for the ‘unfortunate’ experience I’d had during my first assessment and asked if I felt anxious about his presence. My wife repeatedly told him that his presence in our house made me rather anxious.
He set up his laptop while I laid down on the sofa and closed my eyes due to overwhelming fatigue and pain in my back. My wife gave him 2 separate reports by different consultants that explained in great detail the impact of my ME. He promised to read the reports later. Then it was back to the same old routine of questions and type, type by the health professional.
I tried my best to answer the questions with help from my wife. The assessment lasted an hour and a quarter and then the health professional carried out a physical examination while I was laid down. It lasted about 90 seconds and then he left much to my relief.
Two weeks later and I received a copy of the health professional’s report which had me in tears within a minute of reading it. I could not believe the inaccuracies and omissions of things I had told him. The consultant’s reports that I had given him were not even mentioned. He did, however, mention that the report from the November assessment, which had been described by 2 Atos managers as unsatisfactory, was part of the evidence that he had considered!
I felt incredibly upset at not being believed a second time. I thought the first rule of medicine was to do no harm. Obviously, the health professionals working for Atos seemed to have forgotten what the word ethics means. This greatly increased the severity of my anxiety while I struggled with a flaring up of my neurological illness. For several weeks I was too ill to think about my PIP claim and regretted ever making a claim.
A month after the home assessment I decided that I could not give in. I spent two weeks going over his report line by line and took it apart. My critique ran to four pages and I sent it off by recorded delivery. Atos sent me the obligatory letter saying they would reply to my complaint within 30 working days.
Seven weeks after my assessment, I rang up the DWP and was told that I would receive a decision in one to two weeks as they were considering new medical evidence related to my claim.
A few days later, I received two letters from Atos which were replies to my two written complaints. The letter dealing with my first complaint noted that the health professional and her manager had failed to respond to the request from Atos client relations for a response to the points I had raised. It concluded with the statement that the health professional’s report was “both insufficiently detailed and based upon information which dated from 2014 and earlier dates”. This was just not true. I provided several up to date reports from different medical professionals into the impact of my illness, but they seem to have been ignored.
The second letter was a reply to my second complaint and noted that a review of the health professionals report had been carried out by a Client Relations Medical Advisor. It went through in detail the many points that I had raised. It concluded with the statement that were “many inaccuracies and omissions” within the report and that further medical evidence “had not been fully considered”. To cap it all off was the further admission that the report contained many “inconsistencies and contradictions”.
After such a damning quality review, the Atos client relations officer noted that the conclusions of the review had been sent to DWP for them to consider.
Three days later and I received the DWP letter saying that I had been awarded PIP at the enhanced rate for daily living and mobility for ten years! Two days later, my Citizens Advice Bureau worker rang me up congratulating me and saying that the ten year award in such circumstances was unprecedented.
I punched the air after receiving my award. I felt that I won a small victory over Atos and the DWP.
The moral of my story is simple: Never give up fighting. I know that many others with ME can find similar problems when accessing disability benefits, and would like to say to you all: No matter how many times you are wrongly turned down, no matter what is said about you in Atos reports, don’t let it get you down. Turn the dejection, anxiety, stress and anger you may be feeling into action. Put pen to paper and write a letter of complaint about what happened at your assessment and/or what is said in the health professionals report. Make sure it is sent by recorded delivery. You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve fair treatment.
We must all stand together to give disabled people the help, encouragement and support necessary to fight for the benefits that they are entitled to.