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MS sufferer who needs constant aid denied higher benefit after being deemed fit to drive

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A Co Antrim multiple sclerosis sufferer has labelled the assessment for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit payment a "farce".

Tom Hunter, who was diagnosed in 2008, requires help to complete most daily tasks.

The 54-year-old from Islandmagee said: "Basically, I move about on two crutches. My wife has to do everything for me, so she has to do the cooking, she has to help dress me, basically I can't do much."

Mr Hunter was shocked when his PIP assessment form stated he has "suitable upper limb function to drive a manual car consistently for 20 miles".

He said: "The person who came out, no harm to them, is an occupational therapist. They do not have the knowledge to deal with someone with a neurological condition."

Mr Hunter claimed the report contradicted letters from his MS nurse, his neurophysio and his psychotherapist, and has put his case forward for mandatory reconsideration.

Letters submitted as part of this include one from his neurophysio refuting a statement he has "fluid upper limb movements and bilateral grip" - which is cited as a reason he would have the upper limb function to drive a manual car.

The report also states Mr Hunter is capable of cooking with the use of an aid.

Responding to this, a letter from his MS nurse states he is "unable to lift pots and unable to determine temperature".

Mr Hunter said his situation could have been worse, as he continues to receive the standard rate of payment - rather than the advanced rate he believes he is entitled to. PIP was introduced in June last year, and assessments are being carried out in Northern Ireland until December next year on current DLA recipients aged between 16 and 64.

These assessments are aimed at determining a person's ability to carry out everyday mobility and daily living activities - not their ability to work. Assessments in Northern Ireland are carried out on behalf of the Department for Communities by Capita, a private company.

Capita said: "Our disability assessors are healthcare professionals equipped with the knowledge, skills and training set out by the Department for Communities to conduct functional-based PIP assessments across Northern Ireland.

"We are committed to delivering accurate high quality reports and ensure this through comprehensive training and ongoing specialist support for our healthcare professionals, as well as having a robust audit process in place."

The Department for Communities said it expected the highest standards from Capita, which has to conform to a rigorous set of quality standards set down by the department.

It added: "The assessment report is just one piece of evidence used in determining the claim, the decision maker has to consider the information provided by the customer in their claim form, and any other evidence provided. Decision makers also receive comprehensive training and are supported by a range of regularly updated guides.

"A rigorous internal quality control regime is also in place in the department to ensure accurate decisions are made.

"Where the decision maker considers the assessment report is not fit for purpose they may return them to Capita for rework, which will be carried out at their expense."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (left) has met the permanent secretary at the Department of Communities to voice "very serious concerns about the operation of the new PIP regime", after hearing from claimants.

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