Social Justice

Blind woman mistakenly refused disability benefits by DWP: 'I was in shock'

A woman who is registered as severely visually impaired/ blind describes feeling "invalidated" when she was refused half of her disability benefits

Braille on protest poster

"We're being... by the government", a poster warns at a disability benefits protest. Image: RNIB/ Flickr

A woman who is severely visually impaired and registered blind was “shocked” when she was refused half of her disability benefits.

“It made me feel like my disability had been invalidated,” the woman called Sharon told The Big Issue, as she recalled being informed that she had scored close to zero points for the mobility element of her personal independence payment (PIP). “It made me feel like I didn’t deserve it.” 

When she was a teenager, Sharon was diagnosed with an incurable genetic condition which means her sight is progressively getting worse. She has blindness at night and has lost her peripheral vision, and she uses a cane to get around. It will only deteriorate further. 

Sharon has claimed the highest rate of the ‘mobility element’ of the PIP for a few years, but she was never considered eligible for the daily living allowance. That’s given to people who need help with everyday tasks.

Her sight significantly worsened, and Sharon was advised to reapply for PIP by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). The charity helps blind and partially sighted people claim disability benefits through its legal rights team. 

“I had started relying on my mum to do so much for me,” the 31-year-old said. “I thought maybe I should be applying for PIP again to see if I qualify for the daily living allowance.” 

Sharon had to reduce her working hours to part time, because looking at a computer screen was straining her eyes and causing headaches.

The team at RNIB went through the assessment with her and found that she would be eligible for the enhanced rate. But when Sharon received her results, she had scored zero points for the daily living element – except for the reading element. 

“I didn’t realise it would make me feel so stressed,” Sharon said. “I was quite shocked. I didn’t expect to score basically nothing. When the charity was reading my decision letter they noticed that it actually didn’t mention my sight loss once in the daily living part. 

“They mentioned something about my limbs being fine. But they didn’t mention the sight loss at all. I did mention in my application that it’s not pain that stops me from getting around. It’s not about not physically being able to move. It’s about not being able to see, or not see well.”

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When she spoke to The Big Issue, she was getting ready to appeal the decision on the advice of the RNIB. Since then, about a month on, the charity helped her write an eight-page letter to the DWP, restating everything she needed help with and where she should have been awarded points. 

Following her initial appeal, known as a mandatory reconsideration, the DWP has reversed their decision and gave her more points for her daily living sections which now means she has been awarded an enhanced rate of this element.

Sharon is far from alone. Dominic Milne, a legal officer at RNIB, said: “All too often we hear that disability assessors don’t understand the daily issues faced by people with sight loss and the specific support needed to overcome barriers when being assessed for a benefit.

“In a sample batch of 20 cases represented by RNIB, claimants who initially received no points for PIP went on to receive the highest awards for daily living and mobility when the decision was challenged at appeal. This illustrates the flawed nature of the current process and the lack of recognition of the barriers faced by blind and partially sighted people.”



There is no difference in the assessment questions for those with mental health conditions, people who use wheelchairs and those who are visually impaired. Around 69% of visually impaired people feel that assessment questions do not relate properly to them, according to an RNIB survey.

Sharon added: “Even the application process itself isn’t very accessible, especially for visually impaired people because your only option is to ring them up. Sometimes you’re on hold for an hour trying to get through. There’s no online option. I can’t see black text on a white paper very well. If it was digital, you’d have the option to zoom in.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of people with disabilities every year and in the majority of PIP cases we make the right decision. All our disability assessors are qualified health professionals, and we are investing in their skills so that everyone has a positive experience when claiming PIP.”

The Big Issue has not seen evidence to confirm it makes the right decision in the majority of cases. The DWP rejects almost 90% of mandatory reconsiderations, but official statistics show 68% of claimants win their case when appealing the decision at tribunal.

Sharon is grateful to the charity who helped her, and that she did not have to take her appeal any further, but she knows many others are struggling. “I see other people’s stories and they didn’t even get anything. I didn’t realise it would just sit on my mind this much. It’s all I can think about. The idea of having to go to tribunal makes me feel sick.”

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