Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claimants accessing Atos assessment centre

In July 2015 we attended a carers group meeting in Huddersfield where we heard from carers of children with severe disabilities that their lifetime awards for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) were being reviewed. We heard that because there was not a PIP Assessment centre in Kirklees, our residents were being forced to travel as far as Manchester for their review appointments. When we investigated this further we found that Kirklees was the only area in West Yorkshire that did not have a PIP assessment centre. Most other West Yorkshire areas had at least two PIP assessment centres. We spoke to partners to understand this issue better and to understand the impact on vulnerable people in our community. We spoke to the advocacy service at Carers Count, an ME support group, our council’s benefits advice service and a local HIV charity to understand better the impact of this on their users, especially those with long term conditions. Partners described the impact on people with a variety of disabilities across our whole community.

“We’ve had a client who was asked to go to Manchester for his PIP assessment, for someone that cannot afford public transport due to poverty how are they expected to get there? Arranging a taxi sounds like a simple solution in theory but in reality Atos are not offering this option.” “A guy I know was offered a PIP assessment in Manchester. How can a service user in a wheelchair be expected to get to Manchester for 10am using public transport. They’re setting people up to fail.” “I’ve got a relative who was offered an assessment for PIP in Calderdale, then it got cancelled. They rearranged it for Leeds which he said he would not be able to attend. So they stopped his money and said it was his fault for changing the appointment. I didn’t know they did home visits.”

We worked with BBC Look North to collect case studies of people who had been directly impacted by the changes; “Wendy was a 60 year old lady who was on DLA high rate (both components) for over 10 years. She has arthritis, had a hip replaced, is missing spine discs, COPD, a kidney failure and suffered from depression and anxiety. She had traveled to Wakefield for a PIP assessment in a taxi. She had asked for a home visit in the assessment form but was refused for short notice. She traveled alone in a taxi as her daughter has already taken off too much time from work for her appointments. Wendy failed the mobility component in her assessment; the fact that she traveled alone and managed to walk into the building was used against her. But the Wakefield Centre can only be accessed if you can walk for more than 20 yards. Wendy paid £35 for a taxi from her own pocket.”

In August 2015 we wrote to Atos with the stories we had heard and asked them if they had any plans to open an assessment centre in Kirklees to make things easier and fairer for people in our community. They said no, they had no plans to do so. We researched the issue further and made contact with an organisation in Blackpool who faced a similar problem last year. We learned that a letter writing campaign had been arranged by their local Citizens Advice Bureau which had led to a review of the decision.

We launched our campaign in September 2015. We provided a standard format letter for local organisations from a wide range of backgrounds to write to Iain Duncan Smith to ask for a change in the way that PIP assessments were delivered in our area. Our campaign was backed by 3 local MPs: Paula Sherriff, a member of the Health Select Committee, Jason McCartney and Jo Cox who tabled an Early Day Motion on PIP and access to Atos assessment centres. Ten local councillors wrote to the Secretary of State, alongside community organisations, law centres and a wide variety of organisations that supported people in our community with specific health problems and disabilities.

In December 2015 we heard from Atos that “Our estates team is currently working on plans for a centre in the Kirklees area, as part of our 2016 accommodation expansion plans across the parts of the country where we deliver PIP assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.” The news was well received by people in our campaign and in March 2016 we heard that the proposal had become a reality with Atos contacting us to say that a lease had been signed, with a new service due to open in May/June 2016.

We worked in partnership with the following organisations and people to achieve this change; Paul Sherriff MP, Nick Whittingham- Kirklees Law Centre, Azizur Rehman- IMWS, Jason McCartney MP, Carol Haigh- Mencap, Fiaz Rashid – PKWA, Shahed Mayat – Milen Care, Jo Cox MP, The Brunswick Centre, Kathryn Woodhouse- Parent and Chair of North Kirklees Autism Support Group and Friends, Lifeline Kirklees, Communities Who Can, KFTRA (Kirklees Federation of Tenants & Residents Associations) Starr Zaman- Routeways, Touchstone, Huddersfield Mission, Fusion Housing, ME Society Cllr Masood Ahmed, Cllr Cahal Burke, Cllr Gemma Wilson, Cllr Cathy Scott, Cllr Andrew Cooper, Cllr Musarrat Khan, Cllr Marielle O’Neill, Cllr Darren O Donovan, Cllr Nosheen Dad, Cllr Graham Turner.