“DON’T give up.” That is the advice this week from a young Strabane woman who has finally qualified for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), almost a year after her initial application.
Erin Jack (23) who lives with a heart condition and who suffers from epilepsy and debilitating cluster headaches, previously condemned PIP, the scheme being rolled out by government as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), as unfit for purpose.
Miss Jack believes that the combination of the “impossible” application forms and the convoluted assessment process she had to endure is just a different form of austerity on the part of the government. She says the government is trying to push some people – those with epilepsy like herself – off the benefit platform altogether.
Last year Ms Jack, who currently takes five different types of medication, had qualified for benefits through DLA without any problem. However, upon her application for PIP, that situation changed.
Despite all her medical complaints and without having to undergo an initial physical examination for PIP – at the behest of her assessor – Miss Jack failed to score any points in the PIP assessment. After that she demanded a “mandatory reconsideration” only to score four points. However, at least eight points are needed to achieve any PIP .
Miss Jack eventually had to take the process to the appeal stage, where she eventually qualified for PIP.
“I had never been as stressed in my life,” she remarked.
“Even after the appeal, every day we were waiting on a brown envelope coming in the post with bad news.
“But I am relieved now. I’m qualified for PIP for three years and then it’s reviewed after that.”
She continued, “I feel as though the assessors have picked on certain types of people like myself. They didn’t seem to care about you at all. You were only a number.
“If it hadn’t been for Paul (Gallagher) and Teresa (Stewart), I would have found things even more difficult than they were.”
Strabane independent councillor, Paul Gallagher and Teresa Stewart from Strabane Access Youth Engagement (AYE) supported Miss Jack through her application and appeal process.
“Don’t give up,” Miss Jack repeated. “You might get these big forms through the door but there are always people out there who are going to help you.”
For his part, Cllr Gallagher says Miss Jack’s case is a perfect example of how the PIP process is flawed.
“It’s definitely flawed but with what Erin went through… that is clear evidence that people need to stay with the process, go through the whole process and if needs be, go to appeal.”
When contacted this week as to whether a mistake had been made in Erin Jack’s case or if lessons had been learned, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said they could not comment on individual cases.