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Sight loss charity secures further win in battle to stop DWP ‘cold-calling’ disabled people to make low benefit offers

An “enormous weight has been lifted” from a Hampshire man with partial sight loss and depression after he was awarded a £10,000 backdated benefit payment after being unfairly offered a lower amount than he was rightfully entitled to.

The claimant’s case was taken up by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) which has been challenging decisions by the Department of Work and Pensions to offer lower awards for Personal Independence Payments to claimants over the telephone.

The practice of making reduced verbal offers on awards prior to appeals being heard has recently been successfully challenged in the High Court by legal teams from a number of charities including RNIB.

The man who is in his 40s and lives in Portsmouth has severe sight loss as well as a history of anxiety and depression. The claimant was offered nine points for his care needs over the phone, amounting to the standard rate of care, but was given zero points and therefore no support for his mobility needs, despite needing to travel for regular hospital appointments.

He initially accepted the offer in April, on the basis that he was worried about the appeal process and attending a hearing. He sought advice from the RNIB as he was unsure as to whether the award offer had been fair.

RNIB’s legal team submitted a new appeal on his behalf, demonstrating the claimant was vulnerable and the act of making him a lower telephone offer was unfair and at odds with the new guidance for decision makers following the recent court case.

Within a week the DWP issued a new decision, awarding the claimant the enhanced rates of both care and mobility with 14 points being awarded for each. This amounts to some £7,500 per year extra. The RNIB’s legal work also identified a shortfall in his Employment and Support Allowance which has been corrected, giving him a £10,000 backdate overall.

Claimant A said: “When I learnt the case had been successful I felt an enormous weight off my mind as well as a real sense of relief after months of uncertainty, which had exacerbated my mental health problems.

“At times I felt like the DWP were not treating me like a human but thanks to the invaluable and life-saving help from the RNIB’s Legal Rights Service I was able to secure a much better outcome.”

During the summer and autumn, the claimant accumulated debts, all of which have now been paid off. The award will also make it possible for him to afford to take taxis required to attend hospital appointments and continue to receive treatment for agoraphobia and other health conditions.

Despite DWP committing to ensuring better practices when making telephone offers to claimants, the charity’s legal team say they are still hearing of vulnerable claimants feeling pressured to take lower offers in PIP payments via telephone conversations with advisors.

RNIB Legal Rights Officer Dominic Milne said: “We are very pleased that the DWP made such a swift U-turn in this customer’s case. It may be that the new guidance on making telephone offers of this kind will take some time to filter down into practice by the department. Until it does, RNIB will continue to check cases, to ensure fair awards and fair practice is applied everywhere.”

Every year, RNIB’s legal rights team successfully secures hundreds of thousands of pounds of benefits that blind and partially sighted people are entitled to following reviews of benefit awards decisions. The charity has a 99 percent success rate of cases it pursues.