'Helen Purdon’s life was turned upside down in September 2017 when her application for personal independence payment (PIP) benefit was rejected. Purdon, 47, had been on disability living allowance (DLA) for 10 years, following a diagnosis of epilepsy, which means she has seizures every 10 to 15 days. She is unable to work and assumed her transfer to PIP would be seamless. But she was wrong. “It was unreal. My DLA stopped, which was around £400 a month. I didn’t get any money at all for months,” she says. “We couldn’t afford to put petrol in the car, we were living off pasta and beans.” Purdon, who is from Irvine in North Ayrshire, decided to appeal against the PIP decision.
It took more than a year, but in October 2018 a tribunal found that Purdon was entitled to PIP, awarding her £119.90 a week and backdated payments of £5,700.
Purdon’s case is all too common. According to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, more than half of existing epilepsy patients and two-thirds of new claimants are being denied disability benefits.
PIP was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales in 2013, replacing DLA. The benefit is supposed to cover some of the additional costs of having a long-term health condition, and is available to people in or out of work. It is worth up to £87.65 a week to meet daily living needs, plus up to £61.20 a week for the mobility element, depending on assessment.
But since PIP was introduced, 65% of claims from people with epilepsy who did not have DLA were rejected, while 54% of those in receipt of DLA were turned down for PIP, the second-highest refusal rate of all health conditions and double the national average. Of those who challenged the decision 78% won on appeal. According to Epilepsy Scotland, which obtained the figures, the benefit assessment system is flawed because it fails to take account of fluctuating conditions like epilepsy. Claims assessors focus too heavily on the type and number of seizures a person has, while ignoring other symptoms like memory impairment, confusion, anxiety and depression.'
Read more: Epilepsy patients left high and dry following PIP benefit reform
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