An upper tribunal judge has made findings which will help some claimants show they qualify for PIP points for difficulties with reading and with budgeting, even if they have an apparently high standard of literacy and numeracy. The claimant was represented by an advice worker who also volunteers for Benefits and Work.
The claimant in this case was assessed as being ‘borderline on the learning disability range’. It was found she could read simple words, recognise road signs and fire escape signs and recognise the packaging of her medication.On this basis a tribunal found that she could read and understand basic and complex written information and therefore scored zero points for the activity Reading and understanding signs, symbols and words (see the list of descriptors for reading and budgeting at the bottom of this article)..
The legal definition of ‘basic written information’ for PIP is signs, symbols and dates written or printed standard size text in your native language.
‘Complex written information’ means more than one sentence of written or printed standard size text in your native language
The judge held that the descriptors clearly require an ability to read some actual words, not just symbols and numbers. So, the claimant would need to be able to read a date written as, for example ‘Friday January 31’.
The judge also held that the ‘basic written information’ in question must convey something useful, explaining that:
“basic written information”, whilst indeed basic, is nonetheless concerned with matters of real practical utility and that the bar must not be set so low in interpreting the phrase so as to be testing only an ability of no practical consequence.”
The judge ruled that the word ‘sign’ does not refer to, for example, a printed arrow meaning go to some other part of a leaflet. Instead, the definition refers to the ability to read words on a printed, rather than handwritten sign, such as ‘Caution – electric fence’ or ‘Park closes at 5.30pm’.
The judge struggled to find any way in which prompting – defined as reminding, encouraging or explaining - could be of relevance to this activity, pointing out that:
“Explaining” what a piece of basic written information is, so that the person does not need to read it, is not prompting them to read it.”
Perhaps most importantly, the judge pointed out that any reading must also be done reliably, meaning:
(b) to an acceptable standard;
(c) repeatedly; and
(d) within a reasonable time period.
The judge held that “For people without difficulties in this area, reading a short sign will be almost instantaneous.”
However, many people diagnosed with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or a processing disorder may have difficulties with visual processing, language processing, short-term working memory, concentration, focus and other issues. This may mean that whilst they have a high standard of literacy they take in written information more slowly and may process it differently and may also need to read it repeatedly in order to put it into the correct context.
Even a small delay in reading basic or complex written information would be enough to show that it takes “more than twice as long as the maximum period that a person without a physical or mental condition would take”.
Where complex written information is concerned, conditions such as language or visual processing disorders or difficulties focusing may mean claimants with conditions such as ASD or ADD have problems following meaning without repeated reading. They may also have difficulty retaining complex information for long enough to act upon it.
So, even though they would have no difficulty in reading the words aloud, for example, they are unable to understand complex written information to an acceptable standard.
Finally in relation to this activity, the judge held that ‘Cannot read or understand signs, symbols or words at all’ does not mean that the claimant cannot read any words, but that they cannot read the basic written information at issue in this activity.
In this case the claimant scored no points, with the first-tier tribunal finding that they could manage complex budgeting decisions unaided because, amongst other things:
“She goes to the bank to get money out. She pays different sums on two cards and her TV licence is separate. She has a direct debit to pay for a charity contribution. She did state that she asked for help in the bank. She knew she got paid every fortnight. She knew that 24 tins of dog food costs £8.50, although she claimed not to know the change. Her taxi is £3.50 and she gives the driver extra for a drink. The [appellant] exhibited a good degree of knowledge regarding her finances and how they are paid.”
As with reading, there are important legal definitions for this activity.
Simple budgeting decisions” means decisions involving –
(a) calculating the cost of goods; and
(b) calculating change required after a purchase;
Complex budgeting decisions” means decisions involving –
(a) calculating household and personal budgets;
(b) managing and paying bills; and
(c) planning future purchases;
The judge held that the requirements in the definitions are cumulative, the claimant must be able to do each of them.
So for simple budgeting the claimant must be able to both calculate the cost of goods and then calculate how much change will be given to meet the descriptor.
The judge held that calculating is not the same as knowing. In this case, the judge explained:
“The appellant is said to “know” that 24 tins of dog food cost £8.50. That is not a matter of calculation unless, for instance, 12 tins are known to cost £4.25 and the cost of 24 has to be worked out.”
For complex budgeting decisions there are, in fact, five activities that the claimant must be able to complete:
Calculating household budgets
Calculating personal budgets
Planning future purchases
The judge held that just paying bills is not sufficient, the claimant must also be able to ‘manage’ them, which could include such issues as “prioritising which bill to pay in the light of competing demands, or the need to avoid or minimise late payment charges, or the need to take stock of bills which will inevitably be coming up and to plan accordingly”.
The judge also held that:
“A “household budget” may well be more complex than a “personal budget”, with housing costs, utility charges and possibly the finances of others to be factored in”.
It is clear then, that complex budgeting decisions are indeed complex.
For all the reasons given above for reading, claimants with conditions such as ASD and ADD may well take more than twice as long to make simple budgeting decisions, especially where anxiety is also a part of their condition and may be made more pronounced by being in a public space and amongst strangers.
Complex budgeting require a great deal of focused attention and the ability to think ahead about a number of different possibilities in order to make decisions to an acceptable standard and in a reasonable time period.
This will clearly be an even greater challenge for claimants with ASD, ADD or similar conditions, as these often coexist with executive function difficulties which affect organisational skills, the ability to think forward into the future and difficulties with the concept of doing things within a specific timeframe.
In many cases, claimants may have had a budgeting system, including direct debits and standing orders set up for them and would be unable to take effective action if, for example a payment into their account was delayed.
The more evidence, including examples, that the claimant can provide that they cannot reliably carry out any one aspect of these activities, the better the chance that they will eventually be given the correct award of PIP. Even if they have to go all the way to the upper tribunal to get it.
In this case, the judge is awaiting further submissions before making a final decision.
8. Reading and understanding signs, symbols and words.
a. Can read and understand basic and complex written information either unaided or using spectacles or contact lenses. 0 points.
b. Needs to use an aid or appliance, other than spectacles or contact lenses, to be able to read or understand either basic or complex written information. 2 points.
c. Needs prompting to be able to read or understand complex written information. 2 points.
d. Needs prompting to be able to read or understand basic written information. 4 points.
e. Cannot read or understand signs, symbols or words at all. 8 points.
10. Making budgeting decisions.
a. Can manage complex budgeting decisions unaided. 0 points.
b. Needs prompting or assistance to be able to make complex budgeting decisions. 2 points.
c. Needs prompting or assistance to be able to make simple budgeting decisions. 4 points.
d. Cannot make any budgeting decisions at all. 6 points.