Thousands win appeals to keep disability cash
ONE in four people denied or stripped of disability benefits by the Government have successfully overturned the decision on appeal, new figures reveal.
Data obtained by The Sentinel shows thousands of claimants in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have successfully fought Jobcentre decisions to cut or reject bids for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
MPs today warned appeal numbers will soar further when figures are updated to reflect protests against the Government's new fit-to-work assessmensts.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is fighting claims its assessments are 'distressing' and 'unreliable.'
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Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 8,497 appeals have been lodged across the region against decisions to remove or deny ESA since its introduction in 2008.
And Her Majesty's Tribunal Service has sided with the claimant in 2,234 cases – around 26 per cent, or roughly one in four applicants.
Nationally, the DWP said 15 per cent of fit-for-work decisions are overturned on appeal.
ESA benefit provides support for people who are unable to work because of serious illness or disability.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley is supporting an Early Day Motion calling on MPs to condemn the impact of fit-for-work assessments.
She said: "Every appeal has a huge impact on people's mental health and causes loved ones a lot of concern as it's leaving their relatives with no money and, in some cases, people can become suicidal.
"And the appeals mean taxpayers are having to pay for the process twice.
"I am inundated with heart-breaking letters from people who have previously worked and paid taxes all their lives and are now being destroyed by the dreadful effect of the flawed way these assessments are being carried out."
A spokesman for the mental health charity Mind said: "More than a third of people apply for ESA because they have mental health problems. We know that many are wrongly declared fit for work."
Campaigners from the pressure group Disabled People Against Cuts said the assessments are causing 'huge damage and distress to disable people.' The Government says it introduced the assessments – which are carried out by French firm Atos – to cut £600 million in overpayments to people who no longer qualify for ESA, formerly incapacity benefit.
They were piloted under Labour but rolled out nationally by the Tory-led coalition and millions are now having their incapacity status reviewed.
But Atos has faced a flood of complaints about the reliability of its tests, which often contradict doctors' orders. The Government has also placed a one-year limit on ESA claims with those still unable to work after 12 months instead given a means-tested benefit based on their household income.
A spokesman for the DWP said: "ESA assesses someone's capacity for work and looks at what a person can do, not what they can't. If someone disagrees with the outcome of their assessment, they have the right to appeal"