The DWP has caved in the day before it faced a judicial review from a disabled woman over the way it tries to pressure PIP claimants into accepting a lower offer than they are entitled to shortly before an appeal tribunal.
The claimant, known as ‘K’ was supported in her challenge by the Public Law Project (PLP).
K appealed a low award of PIP, after being told by support workers that she was entitled to the highest level of the benefit.
After her appeal process had started, the DWP telephoned without warning from a ‘withheld’ number and pressurised her into accepting a bit more than they had offered before, but not the full entitlement.
The DWP told her that she had an hour to consider the ‘offer’ and said “tribunals are not very nice to go to” which dissuaded her from going through with the appeal.
The DWP did not call K’s mother who helps her with all her financial affairs.
K did not think she could appeal the new ‘offer’ and the DWP did not tell her about her rights. K ended up feeling suicidal and struggled to cope.
When K realised that the DWP had been doing this to other disabled benefits claimants too, she resolved to take action and instructed PLP to help her challenge this practice.
K said: “The caller from the DWP told me I had one hour to think about it and said that if I accepted the offer then the tribunal appeal would be cancelled, but if I didn’t accept the offer then I could lose the whole award at the tribunal. I was imagining me in a big court room trying to argue my case on my own and with my whole PIP award at risk.
“They called me back before I could speak to my mum, so I just accepted the offer as I didn’t know what else to do. I felt I had been pressured into making the wrong decision and I didn’t know how to put it right.
“The practice of phoning people in this way just isn’t right. It’s not just about the cold calling, it’s the whole way they treat you on the call. I felt extremely pressured to make a quick decision. I wasn’t given the time I needed to speak to my mum or seek any advice, they didn’t give me the information that I needed to work out if it was what I was entitled to, and they didn’t tell me I could accept the offer and still appeal the decision if I wanted.
“It feels as though the DWP has been picking on extremely vulnerable people and using the fear of going to a tribunal or losing an award to pressure people into accepting less than they should be getting.”
The DWP dug its heels in for a year, refusing to accept it was doing anything wrong until the day before the hearing, when it suddenly agreed to make a number of changes, including:
- Telling staff it is ‘essential’ that they inform claimants that even if they accept a revised offer they still have the right to appeal against it.
- Telling staff that they must ensure that benefit claimants do not feel “pressured” into making a decision.
- Delivering mandatory training to all staff involved in ‘lapsing’ appeals by the end of October to ensure they understand the updated guidance.