The results of the Headway survey Experiences of Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment after brain injury show that the majority of brain injury survivors have a negative experience of applying for these benefits.
The system of applying for both benefits is reported to be largely focused on the physical impact of having a disability, neglecting other elements of disabilities. For brain injury survivors, the majority of effects that can hinder employment opportunities or affect daily living are ‘invisible’ and not easily explained on the current application forms. Indeed, 76% and 77% of respondents felt that it was difficult to explain the effects of brain injury on the application form for ESA and PIP, respectively.
Respondents felt that assessors were lacking in specialist knowledge of brain injury. 71% and 60% felt that the assessor for ESA and PIP, respectively, did not have an understanding of brain injury. Further, assessors were widely reported to lack empathy and patience, resulting in a stressful and even traumatic experience for many brain injury survivors. Many respondents also commented on the fact that their medical evidence was not taken into consideration, and that the assessment location/environment was not suitable for them despite requests made in advance.
Consequently, there was a strong sense of frustration and anxiety reported by brain injury survivors and their carers about their needs not being recognised or respected throughout the application process.
Based on these findings, we have made the following recommendations:
- Specialist assessors are needed, who have an expert knowledge of complex conditions such as brain injury. Only 29% of ESA claimants and 40% of PIP claimants felt their assessor understood brain injury.
- Applicants should be offered the option for an audio or visual recording of the face-to-face assessment. They should not have to make special arrangements or provide their own recording equipment for this.
- Third-party evidence such as medical evidence must be actively sought by the assessors and decision makers and taken into consideration in all circumstances
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