03:30PM, Friday 17 February 2017
A mother suffering from a degenerative condition has blasted the government after a ‘humiliating’ benefits assessment took away the car she has relied on for more than a decade.
Celia Johnson, of Spring Gardens, Bourne End, has multiple sclerosis (MS) but was forced to give up the vehicle, which she leased under the Motability Scheme, following an appraisal in August.
And the 67-year-old, who was diagnosed in 1999, says her heart broke on November 7, the day she lost the car she referred to as her ‘legs’.
Even just moving around her ground floor flat can be an ordeal for the mum-of-one, whose mother also suffered from the condition, let alone the walk to nearby bus stops.
“I couldn’t believe that someone couldn’t use a modicum of common sense and see that people like me have got long-term conditions that aren’t going to get better,” she said.
“The whole system is broken.”
In 2000 she was forced to take medical retirement from her job as a nanny as the effort had become too great. Two years later she joined the High Wycombe and District branch of the MS Society.
She eventually became the group’s support officer, a role for which the car she had access to under the Motability scheme, was invaluable in aiding and advising those newly diagnosed with the condition.
But while the loss is a major issue for Ms Johnson, she feels the greater problem is the assessment process itself.
Off the back of her own session, which saw her benefits converted from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), she raised numerous complaints with ATOS Healthcare, the company contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out appraisals.
This included the attitude of the assessor, as well as the fact that the assessor was, by the firm’s own admission in a letter to her, ‘not knowledgeable with the condition MS’, although it insisted all its staff are ‘trained to a high standard’.
According to the MS Society, last year 93 per cent of people with MS, which affects more than 100,000 people in the UK, receiving DLA were given the higher rate of mobility allowance (which Ms Johnson was receiving before her assessment).
But it claims that of the 4,358 people who had been moved to PIP, only 70 per cent receive the equivalent rate.
Laura Wetherly, a policy manager for the charity, said: “It’s absurd that so many people like Celia, who were once deemed in need of this crucial support, now face having it reduced or taken away.
“Having MS is hard enough – it shouldn’t be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense.
“Sadly, Celia’s story echoes many of those we hear from people with MS whose lives have been severely impacted by changes to disability benefits.”
Responding, a spokesman for ATOS promised Ms Johnson's case would be investigated, adding: “All of our PIP health professionals have the qualifications and experience specified by the Department for Work and Pensions and are accredited by them directly.
“Alongside this we undertake thorough training and it is common for our health professionals with previous specialist health care experience to be matched with a corresponding claimant.
“When this may not be possible then consultation with other team members with that specific expertise is expected to ensure a thorough approach.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist. We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments, and work closely with them to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.
“Anyone that disagrees with a decision can appeal and most people leaving the Motability scheme are eligible for a one-off payment of up to £2,000 to help meet their needs.”
Ms Johnson’s case went to appeal on Thursday but was adjourned for more evidence to be gathered.
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