The disability benefits system is ‘broken’ says Eastbourne Citizens Advice

The current disability benefits system is “broken” and the way people are being treated is “truly shocking” – according to a report released today (March 4) by Eastbourne Citizens Advice.

Citizens Advice Bureau, Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)
Citizens Advice Bureau, Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)

The experiences of people living with disabilities and long term health problems who rely on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) have been scrutinised in the report across East Sussex, which concludes the system is “not fit for purpose”.

Kay Birch, Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice said, “The treatment some of our clients have experienced is truly shocking.

Citizens Advice, Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)

“Medical assessors completing assessments before they have even seen the client; a housebound client relying on oxygen being expected to travel to his assessment centre on public transport carrying an oxygen cylinder with him; clients who have been in receipt of support for long term conditions for years suddenly cut off and the resulting appeals taking 15 to 16 months to be resolved.

“Without the ongoing support of local food banks, many of our clients would not have been able to cope.”

Citizens Advice says there are medical assessment processes that can humiliate and prejudge, delays of more than a year in resolving claims and processes that seem “almost designed” to make applicants give up.

It says when a claim for PIP or ESA goes wrong, the time it takes to resolve it and the impact on clients, are more significant than for any other benefit.

Alan Bruzon, manager of Eastbourne CAB said, “The system for PIP and ESA is broken. Seven out of ten appeals are upheld which shows the processes for assessing need are simply not working.

“Not only is this hugely distressing for those facing long delays in accessing the support to which they are entitled, but it is wasting a large amount of taxpayer’s money – £108.1 million was spent on direct staffing costs alone for ESA and PIP appeals between October 2015 and 2018.”

The report proposes a number of recommendations, including:

• Simplifying the application process.

• Making the medical assessment process accessible, fair, delivered to quality standards by suitably trained assessors with the individual’s circumstances listened to.

• Tackling the excessive delay in the system.

• Tackling errors earlier so applicants do not have to go through a lengthy and stressful appeal process unnecessarily, at significant cost to the taxpayer.

The report has been sent to all MPs in the county and Citizens Advice is lobbying for action to improve a system it says is “letting down the very people it is designed to support”.

DWP response

Responding to this, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions, said today, “We spend more than £50 billion a year on benefits to ensure disabled people get the full support they are entitled to.

“Assessments for PIP and ESA are carried out by qualified health professionals, who combine their clinical knowledge with an understanding that not everyone with the same health condition or disability is impacted in the same way.

“A relatively small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal – five per cent for PIP and four per cent for ESA.”

The Herald contacted Citizens Advice to clarify these figures. According to a Freedom of Information request to the DWP, there have been 3.475 million claims for PIP from April 2013 to June 2018.

Appeals were lodged for nine per cent of those claims only and four per cent of decisions were overturned.

This means there were 312,750 appeals in that time period and 139,000 were overturned – which is 44 per cent of overall appeals.

To read the full report, visit