Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Descriptors
You probably appreciate that PIP is a points-based benefit; score the necessary number of points and you get the benefit. It is definitely worth becoming familiar with the test – the only issue is what points you should score, which means identifying the wording that fits and describes how you are affected. The test sets out the statements that have points attached to them, and those statements are known as descriptors. If the wording in the descriptor fits you, you score the points attached to them.
You really need to know where the Department are coming from if you are to complete the form properly, and accurately assess what award you should have. Without this, you cannot tell whether the decision made on your claim is right, how close you are to the points you should have scored, or what could be achieved by appealing the decision to a tribunal. The test is set out here (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2013/9780111532072/schedule/1
Scroll down to Part 2 where the Activities and Descriptors are set out. On your way, you will come across Part 1 where quite a lot of words and phrases are defined. This is also well worth a read. How else would you know that where the word ‘prompting’ is used, it includes explaining by another person? Knowing this can make quite a difference when you are deciding whether you should score 2 points for ‘prompting or assistance to be able to make complex budgeting decisions’ in Activity 10, Making budgeting decisions.
The PIP test activities begin with Preparing food, and it is worth remembering that the test is a measure of your ability, not your kitchen, so not having enough room for a perching stool is not a reason to say that such an aid will not deal with your problems with standing. Helpfully, ‘prepare’ includes opening packaging and cutting with knives, so problems with using your hands can be very relevant here. Even though descriptor 1(c) refers to using a microwave, bear in mind that the test is still about cooking a simple meal, not reheating food cooked for you. Cooking in a microwave will usually involve the food going in and out of the microwave, with ingredients being added or blended in, so issues with handling hot food safely still apply. You cannot be said to be able to cook a meal using a microwave if you do not have one though.
Although it is not unusual to score 1 point for Activity 3, Managing therapy or monitoring a health condition, that one point was fairly useless since it could not affect an award – not being able to take you from a score of 6 to the 8 points needed for an award, for example. But thanks to the Upper Tribunal case of SP v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions (SSWP), it has become easier to score 3 points for the activity, Washing & bathing, since descriptor 4(e) is for someone who ‘Needs assistance to be able to get in or out of a bath or shower’. The case of SP was important in making it clear that if help from another person would be needed to get into or out of an unadapted bath, then the 3 points apply. It does not matter that you do not have or use a bath.
With Managing toilet needs, begin by asking yourself how you get up from the toilet. If you need to use something - the sink, towel rail, cabinet, window sill, bath, etc, then that object is an aid, and should score you 2 points. Not the most pleasant of subjects, but then ask yourself if you are able to clean yourself as well as you used to. The only way to score more than the 2 points for needing to use an aid/appliance is to need help from another person. The issue is not whether you have that help, but whether there is a need, met or unmet. If the state of your laundry shows that despite your best efforts, you are mostly unable to clean yourself to an acceptable standard, then you should score more than those 2 points. Even the claim form makes the point that it wants to know about help you need but do not receive. That phrase to an acceptable standard is important; it is part of regulation 4(2A). Your points score should reflect your ability to carry out any Activity (so from preparing a simple cooked meal to walking 20 metres) safely, to an acceptable standard, as often as reasonably required and within a reasonable time period. If the only way that you can achieve the task is by breaching one or more of those terms, then you should be treated as not being able to achieve it at all. Sadly, we have yet to see either an assessor or a Decision Maker apply that part of the law, but a tribunal will, on appeal.
The Department’s default score when acknowledging difficulties with the physical activities such as Preparing food, Washing & bathing, Managing toilet needs and Dressing & undressing appears to be to award 2 points for the need to use an aid or appliance. You will usually have to work hard to score 4 or more points, but it is worth saying the right things at the claim stage, so that if you do have to appeal, your evidence to the tribunal is consistent with what you have been saying all along. Points to watch with Dressing & undressing include whether you do dress on most days, and if not, why not. Do you undress to go to bed? Do you put yesterday’s clothes back on? Why? If you need to sit down to dress, the chair or bed cannot be counted as an aid, but if you then need to use something to get back to your feet, then that something does count as an aid. The test includes putting on sock, even if you do not wear them, so ask yourself if you could. Upper Tribunal Judge Jacobs said in PE v SSWP that just as a claimant could not elevate their degree of disability by insisting on wearing clothes that were particularly difficult to manage, so too, they would not be required to reduce their disability by wearing only loose fitting and elasticated clothes. You may be limiting yourself in that way and accept it as normal for you, but you need to point that out, because the issue is how you would get on with ‘normal’ clothes. Remember also regulation 4(2A); Steve works full time as a security guard. The tribunal judge awarded him 8 points for Dressing & undressing because of the time it took him to dress. He could not achieve the task within a reasonable time period, defined as no more than twice as long as the maximum period that a person without a physical or mental condition which limits that person’s ability to carry out the activity would normally take.
Perhaps the standard question for most claimants when considering Communicating verbally is, how is their hearing? If you know that you have a problem, have it assessed. The need to use a hearing aid can be a straight forward 2 points. Suffers of Tinnitus who use a white or pink noise generator should explain how this helps them. Those who supplement their hearing by lip reading should describe this and how they would get on if relying on just their ability to hear, in a variety of settings and environments. The title of the Activity is Communicating verbally, and lip reading is not verbal, it is an action.
Reading and understanding, Activity 8, is much misunderstood. Bear in mind that we are talking about standard size print, so difficulties with small print are outside the scope of the test, and that even complex written information means more than one sentence, so we are not talking about a paragraph or complex terms and conditions sent by the bank. The bar is set high and not too many people score. If you need to use a magnifier or view things on a screen differently to the rest of us, do explain this. Someone who has not learned to read, but could learn, will not score points. Cognitive problems can of course score.
Many is the assessment report where they have justified a score of nil for Engaging with other people face-to-face by saying that the claimant engaged well with them, and they interact with people in shops and at medical appointments, but this is wrong. Engaging socially means interacting with people, and includes understanding body language and establishing relationships. The case of SF v SSWP makes it clear that the interaction listed above is not relevant, yet assessors and Decision Makers still get it wrong, not accepting a claimant’s evidence about difficulties, perhaps because if is not supported by medical evidence, but PIP is not a medical benefit.
Complex budgeting decisions require a claimant to be able to calculate household or personal budgets, as well as manage the payment of bills and the planning for future purchases, but the fact that someone else has always done these tasks, or they have no understanding or experience of them will not score points; the issue is could they? Remember that the issue is making decisions, so if the obstacle is a sensory one, they will not score.
Planning & following journeys brings together a variety of limitations and needs. Some will score points because cognitive problems mean that they cannot plan the route of a journey, even in their home, and for someone else to follow. For others, the risk of seizures will make it impossible for them to safely follow the route of even a familiar journey, let alone an unfamiliar one. Descriptor 11(b) is for someone is only able to leave their home on most days, if the support they have avoids their ‘overwhelming psychological distress’. A panel of three Upper Tribunal judges decided the case of MH v SSWP, so it carries even more weight. They decided that anxiety can allow a person to score points for an inability to follow the route of an unfamiliar, or a familiar, journey, but it is necessary to read into those descriptors (d) and (f) the phrase ‘overwhelming psychological distress’. That phrase is not defined in MH or in Schedule 1 of the regulations, so it takes its dictionary meaning of very strong; the threshold is a high one, but we have seen the Secretary of State argue in appeal papers that it does not apply because the claimant was not overwhelmed by their anxiety, but that is not what the Oxford Dictionary of English says.
Turning to the physical side of mobility, stand, used in ‘stand and then move more than….’ means to stand supported by at least one biological foot. In DT v SSWP, the Upper Tribunal said that the surface to be considered must be of a type that is commonly experienced by pedestrians when walking out of doors. This meant a reasonably flat pavement taking into account the usual rise and fall that one might normally encounter, including the need to negotiate kerbs. If your ability to walk on such a surface outdoors is different to how you get on with the perfect surface found in a supermarket, then you must make that point. Most of us struggle to estimate distances, so think in terms of something that you can visualise, such as the 100-metre length of a rugby or football pitch, a 25 metre local authority indoor swimming pool or the 9 metres of a bus length. Consider measuring your living room and use multiples of that. Remember also regulation 4(2A) and what it had to say about time taken/speed of walking, as well as your need to stop, and the impact of those halts on your time to achieve 20 metres or 50 metres, as well as recovery times; you must be able to achieve that distance as often as reasonably required, so not back to back walking. Those moving from DLA to PIP will appreciate that the bar has been raised; whereas a limit of 50 metres was sufficient to get higher rate DLA mobility, 12 points means a limit of 20 metres (or also scoring some points under Planning & following journeys) to keep that award/money/Motability car.