'Interrogation by assessor left me feeling suicidal'
One man told MPs at Stormont yesterday he was left suicidal after being forced to recount his baby's death during an "interrogation" that could lead to the slashing of his disability benefit.
The man, known only by his first name, John, said he came away from the two-hour assessment feeling "mangled".
John, from the Belfast area, was recounting his experience of having his mental and physical health reassessed as part of the process of moving from the old Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Private sector company Capita conducts the reassessments for the Department for Communities (DfC).
John claimed his assessor was "cold as ice" as he described the exercise to MPs carrying out an inquiry in the welfare system in Northern Ireland. He said he has suffered from mental health problems for 37 years since the death of his son, also called John, only five days after he was born.
John said his benefits will potentially be cut by £500 a month from next March.
"I had to relive every single thing from the day and hour my child was born until he died... I was left that I had to walk out of that door after two hours with no support whatsoever."
Another benefit claimant, George (60), from Carrickfergus, spoke about his fears of losing his Housing Executive home if the "bedroom tax" begins here.
"I have lived in a house for 30 years, brought up a family - four children - they have grown up and left and my wife's gone now and I am in the house on my own and it's a house full of memories and when the bedroom tax comes in I will be put out, just put of my home," he said.
A Capita spokeswoman said all its assessors are trained healthcare professionals who carry out assessments in an empathetic manner, adding: "The PIP assessment gathers factual information about a person's functional capability, and does not seek to reach a diagnosis. The DfC reviews this information alongside all other medical evidence submitted. The department, not Capita, makes the decision about an individual's level and length of award."