Northern Ireland

PIP appeal left disabled man 'stressed and humiliated'

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Media captionLiving with COPD: 'It's a very frightening thing'

An east Belfast man who has a long-term lung condition has been "humiliated" by a seven-month battle for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Reggie Duff, 66, has severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a lung function of just 27%.

He had feared losing his long-term disability benefit in July after being turned down for PIP - a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Last week he was told his benefit would be reinstated after winning an appeal.

More than 40% of DLA claimants in NI had their benefit cut or stopped when they were reassessed for PIP.

The Department for Communities said that 9% of the 160,000 PIP decisions in Northern Ireland have been appealed, with just over 2% of those appeals being successful.

Mr Duff is one of 12,375 people who have lodged an appeal for PIP since its introduction in August 2016.

Speaking to BBC News NI, he said he was relieved to have been successful in his appeal.

"The successful appeal has lifted a weight off my shoulders but the whole thing has taken its toll and made me feel totally useless - I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," he said.

Image caption Reggie Duff and his wife Marie

"It has been totally devastating - it was humiliating having to justify myself.

"I already feel bad that I can't do what I used to be able to do because of COPD but the assessor made me feel worthless.

"I am still wakening up at night, it is still going around in my head."

Mr Duff was medically retired from the Northern Ireland Civil Service after being diagnosed with COPD in 2000.

He said he does not believe his initial PIP assessor had any understanding of his chronic lung disease.

"I told the truth from the beginning- I am not swinging the lead but that is what they made me feel - stressed and humiliated.

"I believe assessments should be filmed, just like a police interview."

Mr Duff said he wanted to warn other claimants not to attend assessments alone and said he would have given up without his wife's support.

Marie Duff claimed that her husband's health had deteriorated due to the stress of appeal on 3 January.

"A black cloud has hung over us for months because of this, particularly over Christmas as the appeal loomed," she said.

"He was worried about our finances and was afraid of being a prisoner in his own home if he lost the car as he can't walk far.

"The thing that devastated him most was that he felt as if he wasn't believed.

"Reggie has just 27% lung function - he will not get better, he will only get worse."

A DfC spokesperson said: "We are committed to ensuring we get decisions right first time and in the vast majority of cases that already happens.

"Customers who have reassessed from DLA to PIP and who are appealing the decision are entitled to a mitigation payment equivalent to their rate of DLA until the appeal is determined by the tribunal, which ensures no break in payment during this period.

"From August 2016 to August 2018, the total number of PIP appeals lodged with The Appeal Service was 12,375."

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