People living with disabilities and those with long-term mental health conditions have labelled the disability benefits system as “stressful”, “worrying”, “daunting”, “overwhelming”, “emotional” and “repetitious”.
Claimants taking part in new DWP research, which remains largely unreported in the media, raised a littany of frustrations and concerns about the application processes for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People told the DWP that the experiences of completing ‘questionnaires’, used to determine eligibility for PIP and ESA, were largely negative and called on the Government to make a number of positive changes to the forms.
Claimants felt that the questionnaires were not a good match for how their conditions affected them and impacted their lives.
Those with mental health conditions felt that neither questionnaire worked well for them, while those with physical disabilities expressed similar views.
Claimants told the DWP that the questions contained in the two forms overly focused on having difficulty, needing help, or whether or not claimants are able to undertake a task.
People with mental health conditions argued that while they may be physically able to undertake a task, they may still struggle to bring themselves to carry them out.
Some people living with physical disabilities argued that while they may be able to undertake a task, there may be negative after-effects; for example, it may leave them exhausted or in pain.
Claimants also struggled to understand why the questionnaires asked when their health condition or disability had started.
They felt that in most cases this would be extremely difficult to answer, as they either could not remember or would be unable to pinpoint the exact beginning. This was especially true for those with mental health conditions.
Both the PIP and, to a slightly lesser degree, the ESA questionnaire, felt repetitious to claimants.
They explained how both forms contained questions that were similar to questions that had already been asked, making them believe the DWP were trying to “catch them out” by confusing them.
Claimants also highlighted what they believed to be a lack of transparency within the questionnaires and supporting information about how points are awarded for each benefit.
In particular, those who had fluctuating conditions felt like they were having to revisit their worst days to score points.
Furthermore, claimants were not clear what DWP were looking for, so felt it was necessary to provide as much detail as possible. This focus on their lowest points felt emotionally draining to many claimants.
Compounding this, some claimants, especially in relation to PIP, felt that they would be judged as unsuitable for the benefit if they said anything positive or showed any signs of coping, either within the questionnaire or during the assessment.
This feeling of having to ‘play to your worst days’ and ‘run the gauntlet’ to secure the benefit they were applying for, only added to the belief that they were navigating a flawed system.
Claimants were asked how the questionnaires could be improved. Some of those recommendations include:
- PIP and ESA claimants would like both questionnaires to be more tailored to specific health conditions or disabilities.
- There should be more accessible options for completing the questionnaires, including online and in person.
- PIP and ESA claimants also suggested an extended deadline, of at least six weeks, to give them sufficient time to gather evidence and/or obtain support with completion.
- Some claimants felt the forms were too long, while others said this allowed them to give as much details as possible about their medical conditions.
Many claimants held the opinion that the questionnaires were not actually read, often citing examples from the assessment to support this.
Additionally, across both benefits, many claimants were of the view that the appeal process was usually necessary to be awarded the benefit.
These factors meant that completing the questionnaires sometimes felt somewhat futile from the start.