More than 125,000 people in Northern Ireland are having to be re-assessed for disability benefits after Personal Independence Payments (PIP) were introduced a year ago. And since then more than 12,000 have challenged the outcome of their assessment.
The new benefit system are supposedly more difficult to qualify for than the previous one because more importance is placed on how well a person can function, rather than their diagnosis.
New figures, obtained by BBC Spotlight, suggest that 35% of applicants have been denied PIPs following their initial assessment, meaning thousands are being blocked from funding which is used to aid independent living and help buy equipment.
Spotlight also found that only around 20% of people asking authorities to reconsider their decision will have the initial ruling reversed.
After being denied in the mandatory reconsideration stage, people can ask for an appeal hearing which will involve a legal expert and disability expert.
The change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIPs has meant many people no longer qualify for Motability vehicles and have had their equipment taken away.
Paul Gray, a civil servant charged with examining the new PIP system and its effectiveness in the rest of the UK, believes the new system should be reviewed.
“Since my reviews didn’t cover Northern Ireland then, yes, I think it would be a very good idea for somebody to take a look at that,” he told the BBC programme.
But Justin Tomlinson MP, former minister for disabled people, said PIP is a “much, much better benefit than DLA”.
“Through the introduction of personal independence payments we are getting more people accessing the higher rate of benefits,” he said.
In a statement the Department for Communities said: “Whilst it is still very early days for PIP in Northern Ireland, the recently published information shows that 29% of PIP recipients are getting the highest level of benefit compared to 15% of the working-age DLA customers prior to its introduction.”