Right First Time

Right First Time: Assessing the hidden impact of brain injuryThe Right First Time campaign is calling on the government to bring in changes to the disability benefit assessments which currently fail a large number of brain injury survivors and their families.

The complexities of brain injury, and its often hidden and fluctuating effects can make assessing the impact it can have on survivors’ ability to lead independent lives a complex process.

A significant number of survivors who apply for Employment Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment that are refused, are then subsequently accepted on mandatory reconsideration or on appeal.

This can cause serious financial and emotional distress for the survivor and their family as they navigate the various stages of appeal.

In September, the charity submitted a comprehensive response to a Work and Pensions Committee inquiry entitled Are PIP and ESA Assessments working well?

Headway’s evidence was based on a new survey of more than 650 brain injury survivors, which revealed that the experiences many survivors have when applying for these disability benefits is largely negative.

PIP: 77% said it was difficult to explain the effects of brain injury on their form. ESA: Do you feel your assessor understood brain injury? Yes:29%, No: 71%

“It took three weeks to fill in the form, the questions were not specific to the challenges to changes in perception, fatigue, confusion.”

- ESA claimant with brain injury

The key findings were:

  • The system largely focused on the physical impact of having a disability, neglecting other elements of disabilities.
  • 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.
  • Assessors were found to be lacking in this specialist knowledge. 71% and 60% of respondents felt that the assessor for ESA and PIP, respectively, did not have an understanding of brain injury.
  • Assessors were widely reported to lack empathy and patience.
  • A significant number of respondents commented on the fact that their medical evidence was not taken into consideration, and that the assessment environment was not suitable for them.

Based on our findings, the Right First Time campaign is calling for:

  • Specialist assessors are needed, who have an expert knowledge of complex conditions such as brain injury.
  • To build more trust, we need a system for recording and confirming consideration of third-party evidence by assessors and decision makers.
  • 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.

Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, said: “You cannot underestimate the hardship and deep distress that can be caused to brain injury survivors and their families who are incorrectly assessed for disability benefits.

“Emotionally and financially they feel that their lives have been put on hold with many left feeling that their brain injury has just been ignored or completely misunderstood.

“With help from the people we support, our Right First Time campaign highlights what the government should address to ensure brain injury survivors get the decision and support they deserve.

“Despite numerous calls, this issue has been ignored by successive governments, leaving vulnerable people to pick up the pieces of their lives.

“We hope that the parliamentary report truly reflects the need to improve these assessments, and in turn, that the government finally acts to improve these assessments so they correctly judge the often hidden nature of brain injury.”

Explore the campaign below, or download our summary report (PDF) for more information:

My story

"The assessment just doesn’t work"

Amanda was left very frustrated and stressed by the process of helping her husband, Alan, apply for the Personal Independent Payment.

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