Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Figures show claimants are justified in appealing benefit decisions

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has claimed sick and vulnerable people are being forced to appeal their benefits decisions, and in a high percentage of cases they have been proven justified in doing so. 

Mr McNulty was commenting after he raised concerns with the Department of Communities (DfC) about the continuous rise in the number of constituents seeking help with benefit appeals.

He said: “People don’t want to have to turn to the state for help, but when they do it is for very valid reasons.  Many who are sick, frail and in need have no choice but to turn to DLA / PIP or Attendance Allowance depending on their age or Employment and Support Allowance for financial help when they desperately need it.

“In recent months I have become aware of the growing number of genuine cases who are being denied their benefit or are being allocated the wrong level of benefit.  The whole process for genuine claimants can be degrading and can add anxiety and fear on top of already often debilitating conditions.  People feel like they are having to beg for their benefits.  It is very sad that they can made to feel humiliated, vulnerable and threatened in seeking supports they fully deserve.”

The Newry & Armagh MLA says he sought data from DfC on the number of cases being brought to appeal, adding that he was “astonished” at the response.

“In the 2017/18 year, 69% of those who appealed against a decision for DLA or Attendance Allowance had their decision overturned.  In the 2018/2019 year, 27% of those who appealed against a decision for the same benefit had their decisions overturned. 46% of those who appealed an ESA decision had their decision reversed as did 35% of those who appealed against a PIP decision.

“This is an shocking indictment of our benefits system.  The system is broken – it’s not fit for purpose and benefits like PIP and Universal Credit must be scrapped.  The screening people are subjected to is belittling and the stress the whole Appeals Process puts them under is unfair and unnecessary.  The quality of decisions being made must be challenged.  If so many people across the range of benefits are successfully challenging decisions, then this is concrete evidence that something is wrong with the assessment and decision making process.  This just isn’t good enough and must change. Genuine claimants deserve better.”