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'Seriously flawed' system leaves Newham epilepsy sufferers without support

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 June 2019

The Department for Work & Pensions is being hit for how it assesses people suffering from epilepsy. More than half the people applying to transfer onto the new system have been denied government support. The benefits are meant to ensure they can live independently. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

The Department for Work & Pensions is being hit for how it assesses people suffering from epilepsy. More than half the people applying to transfer onto the new system have been denied government support. The benefits are meant to ensure they can live independently. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

New figures show half of Newham's epilepsy sufferers have had their benefit claims denied after the roll-out of a new system.

National charity Epilepsy Action says the system is "failing people with epilepsy" and that assessors often have little understanding of the condition.

The government has been moving people from the Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment since 2013.

In the last six years, 114 people in Newham suffering from epilepsy have applied to switch to PIP, according to numbers from the Department of Work and Pensions.

In that time, 60 of them had their claims denied, ending their government support. That's 53 per cent of the total applicants.

The rejection rate for epilepsy patients is far higher than the average for all disabilities of 31 per cent.

This trend is reflected across England, where epilepsy patients are almost twice as likely to be denied PIP.

Epilepsy is a serious neurological condition, but can be "fluctuating and largely invisible", according to Epilepsy Action.

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A survey by the charity revealed nine in 10 sufferers felt the person carrying out their PIP assessment did not understand their illness.

"Time and again, we hear that the assessment process for PIP fails to recognise the impact epilepsy can have on a person's life," said Philip Lee, the charity's CEO.

"Without PIP, many are unable to afford the adaptations they need to make in order to live a safe and independent life.

"This is a seriously flawed system that must change, or it will continue to have more devastating effects on people with epilepsy."

The different assessment criteria for PIP can put epilepsy patients at a disadvantage, says anti-poverty charity Turn2Us.

DLA is awarded when people need supervision to keep safe, which covers epileptic seizures. PIP is focused on whether someone needs help achieving specific tasks, such as preparing food, washing and dressing.

Applicants will generally only satisfy a PIP criteria if it applies to them more than half the time - rarely the case with seizures.

The DWP said that PIP was introduced because the previous system was "outdated".

A spokesman said that, of those people with epilepsy who are awarded PIP, 27 per cent get the highest level of support. That's compared to 6 per cent under DLA.

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