Sheffield mum left sobbing over disability benefit

Jennifer Dunstan suffered a panic attack during a PIP assessment
Jennifer Dunstan suffered a panic attack during a PIP assessment

A Sheffield mum who was assessed for a new disability benefit says it was so “horrendous” she suffered a panic attack.

Jennifer Dunstan, 38, was left sobbing and shaking after an assessment for new Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

People who used to receive a disability benefit now have to apply for PIP. The Department for Work and Pensions is reviewing every claim – a total of 1.6 million claims nationwide.

Jennifer lives at Arbourthorne and says her neighbourhood will be the second biggest in Sheffield to be affected by changes to benefits. She has urged people to appeal if they are initially refused the new benefit.

She said: “I had a PIP assessment this year and the process was horrendous. I was sent to an assessment centre in Doncaster but part of my disability is high social anxiety affected by bipolar condition. I also have some physical and neurological disabilities caused by fibromyalgia.

“It’s a horrible combination of things which restricts how far I can travel. I did contact them and at first they said I could be sent anywhere within 90 minutes drive. They eventually changed it but I was assessed by a midwife.

“The assessors are medically qualified but she didn’t know anything about neurological or mental health conditions. She described fibromyalgia as a psychological symptomatic condition but it’s a nerve pain disability. She didn’t do any physical assessment but when I received the notes, she described a physical assessment.

“I was described as being really calm when I had two people supporting me walking into the room because I was shaking and sobbing all the way through the interview. I couldn’t keep up with what she was saying and had a panic attack but none of this was referred to in my notes.”

Jennifer asked for her application to be reconsidered. “You can request a mandatory reconsideration although a lot of people don’t realise this.

“My GP wrote to the Department of Work and Pensions and applied for a tribunal hearing. Three days before, they made an offer of a PIP award. I hear of more and more cases of them doing this.”

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “PIP is a fairer benefit, which takes a much wider look at the way someone’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis. Under PIP, a higher proportion of people get the highest possible award than under DLA, including those with a mental health condition. Meanwhile, people with the most severe, lifelong conditions do not have to attend regular reviews.

“We understand some people need extra support with their claim. Help can be provided with PIP applications and assessments can be arranged at home for those who cannot travel to a centre.

“The PIP assessment criteria were designed in consultation with healthcare professionals and disability organisations, including Mencap, and we work closely with them to ensure that PIP is working in the best way possible.”