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100 per cent tribunal win record exposes 'broken' disability benefits system, says King's Lynn group

A Lynn-based support group says the benefits system for disabled people is “broken” after revealing it had won every case it challenged this year.

The West Norfolk Disability Information Service (WNDiS) has warned that compassion is “often lacking”as it revealed its advocacy had secured nearly £1 million in additional support for claimants in 2021 alone.

And it is hoping to join forces with other organisations in a bid to help more people in need.

The West Norfolk Disability Information Service's Lynn headquarters.
The West Norfolk Disability Information Service's Lynn headquarters.

WNDiS, which is based in the Tuesday Market Place, provides support on a broad range of issues to hundreds of disabled people across the area.

One of its remits is helping applicants to prepare applications for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) which can help people living with a long-term disability or health condition, and other benefits.

The organisation’s annual report reveals it represented 18 clients at tribunal hearings during 2021, winning every single one of them.

Co-ordinator Vickie Joel said the cases had secured a total of £976,782 in additional support during the year to November.

But she added: “It is important to bear in mind that although these awards and the percentage success rate are celebrated by WNDiS, they also represent the numbers of wrong decisions made on Personal Independence Payment and Employment Support Allowance and other benefits.

“The cost of tribunals is high, so too is the cost to clients who have had to battle to get what they should have had by right.”

The report also said there had been far fewer tribunal hearings this year than previously, a trend it believes “as far as it is possible to find out, is a deliberate decision by the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] to reduce them, and to make benefit awards by reconsidering them, prior to a tribunal.”

The paper further outlined plans to offer training to other organisations, such as Citizens Advice, so that more people can be supported in the future.

WNDiS currently supports around 400 clients in areas such as housing, education, blue badge applications, appeals and legal advice.

But their report also revealed that more than 200 new clients have approached them for help during the last year alone. They said the busiest months were June and November with 25 new clients each.

The WNDiS report follows the launch of a campaign by Scope, called Disability Benefits Without The Fight.

It says assessments are often carried out by professionals who don't understand the specific conditions of the people they are assessing.

And an open letter to the DWP said: "Disabled people are being repeatedly failed by stressful and degrading benefits assessments."

Research carried out by Scope suggests that 72 per cent of PIP decisions referred to a tribunal are overturned.

And the charity claims its proposal "would bring us closer to a system that works for disabled people, not against them".

But the DWP says that the proportion of cases appealed and overturned between April 2013 and March this year were only nine per cent and five per cent respectively.

A spokesman said: “For the majority of PIP claims, we get decisions right and all assessments are carried out by healthcare professionals trained to consider the impact of someone’s health condition or disability, but we are exploring what more we can do so the welfare system better meets the needs of disabled people through our Health and Disability Green Paper.”

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