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'The DWP refused me PIP and took universal credit deductions because my landlord told them to. How am I supposed to live?'

George Mitchell believes benefits claimants should be treated as "innocent until proven guilty"

George Mitchell, who has faced difficulties with the DWP PIP and universal credit

George Mitchell has faced difficulties claiming both PIP and has had problems with universal credit too. Image: Supplied

The Big Issue is shining a light on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) disability benefits system. George Mitchell, 49, was refused personal independence payment (PIP) and had money “mistakenly” deducted from his universal credit, which has left him unable to afford food. This is his story. 

I am relying on food banks because universal credit is not enough money to live on. My doctor recently declared me unfit to work because of my health conditions, but I was refused disability benefits by the DWP and it could be several months before I can appeal the decision at tribunal.

I have been in and out of homelessness for a number of years, but I recently moved into supported housing. My support worker encouraged me to apply for PIP in January because I was struggling with my health.

For the last 15 years, I’ve been a fundraiser for various charities and was working at Centrepoint at the time. My legs were not coping and investigations found arthritis in my knees. I was struggling with other health conditions too, but these weren’t diagnosed yet, so I was refused PIP. 

I then went to mandatory reconsideration, and it was refused again. Since then, more health problems have come to light. I have fibromyalgia which was recently diagnosed, and I’m on the “suspected cancer pathway” and need more investigations to exclude that. 

I was approved for the limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA) element of universal credit after getting that diagnosis. If the process for PIP had been clearer and easier to get through, I would have the support I need right now. But as it stands I’m having to survive on food banks. 

To be fair to the PIP system, they didn’t know about all my health conditions when I applied because I didn’t know. But I now have to wait months and face more stress until I can appeal the PIP decision. 

I have no date for my tribunal. The most recent letter I got said it could be several months away. My mental health is getting worse. I don’t socialise with anyone any more because I can’t afford it. My sleep patterns are disturbed. It’s just taken my whole life away. 

At the same time, I have had issues with my universal credit payments too. My landlord was charging more than they should for rent, and then went to the DWP and gave inaccurate information to them to have deductions taken from my universal credit without my knowledge.

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They told the DWP I was over two months in arrears, but this was never true. My support worker attempted to have it cancelled but the landlord refused saying that I hadn’t been engaging with them. I complained to the landlord and that is when they admitted that it should never have happened and had the deductions stopped. I now have an affordable plan in place with the landlord after they officially apologised.

There are problems with how the system is run too. My universal credit work coach told me I had to come to a face-to-face appointment. I’m disabled and I have no money. I had to walk all the way from Welling to Bexleyheath to get there, which takes me much longer than most people with the pains I have. 

The government likes to talk about a hostile environment with illegal immigrants, but I think the real hostile environment they need to sort out is in the DWP. 

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I would like to see people supported. People should be taught how to go about applying for benefits. It should not be so murky. It is like they are trying to catch you out

They have this manner about them to try and prevent people abusing the system, but that’s only causing people with genuine needs to feel completely devalued. It is making their mental health worse. It is just disgraceful. 

People should be treated as innocent until they are proven guilty and you should be given the help you need. They prosecute you at the earliest opportunity. 

DWP response

A DWP spokesperson said: “Everyone should get the benefits they are entitled to as soon as possible and receive a supportive and compassionate service.

“Telephone appointments and refunds for travel costs are available for claimants as part of our reasonable adjustments.

“Mr Mitchell’s landlord denied that he was a tenant at their property and housing costs were suspended until this was confirmed. Payments have subsequently been paid in arrears.”

Mitchell was not under the impression that the landlord denied he was a tenant. He said: “The name of the housing association wasn’t recognised when I first applied for housing costs. My support worker spoke to the landlord and they rectified it on the portal. From that point, it’s all been fine.”

The Big Issue has seen evidence to confirm Mitchell’s health diagnoses and approval for the LCWRA element of universal credit.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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