THE Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system has faced much criticism since it was brought in to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in stages from 2013.

PIP is designed to help people with extra costs caused by long-term illness or disability, but some claimants have found their applications being rejected, or the level of support downgraded.

A major survey of the benefits system published today finds 79 per cent of respondents say their PIP assessments made their health worse due to stress or anxiety.

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The survey, by more than 80 organisations, also finds that a third of those who have had their funding cut say they are struggling to pay for food, rent and bills, while 40 per cent say they have become more isolated.

A small number even report the PIP assessment process was so stressful it was causing them to have suicidal thoughts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says PIP is “a better benefit” than the old system and more people received higher levels of support.

But members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) warn their findings from a survey of more than 1,700 people show that PIP is failing “from start to finish”.

Phil Reynolds, co-chairman of DBC and senior policy adviser at Parkinson’s UK, says: “For the first time, these findings paint the true picture of what it is like to go through the complex assessment process for PIP. Shockingly, a small number of people told us the experience of claiming PIP was so distressing that it has caused new conditions to emerge, or even caused suicidal thoughts.

“It is clear that PIP is failing many people from start to finish so it is vital the Government work with us to get a grip on PIP and support everyone who needs it, instead of making their health worse.”

The DBC wants Government to urgently review PIP and make improvements, including simplified application forms, better knowledge for assessors and indefinite awards for people with progressive conditions, removing the need for them to constantly be reassessed.

THE DWP says more than a quarter of PIP claimants received the highest rate of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA.

“PIP is a better benefit which takes a much wider look at the way an individual’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis, and is tailored to suit each individual’s needs,” says a spokeswoman.

“The latest official research shows that 76 per cent of PIP claimants are satisfied with their overall experience.”

However this is not reflected in the stories of two Parkinson’s sufferers, who say the PIP process made their symptoms worse.

Diane Barrett, 69, from Battersea, south London had to take the Government to a tribunal after her condition was assessed as having improved.

She was diagnosed with the disease in 2008, and having received DLA for seven years, she was told during her reassessment for PIP that her needs had changed.

She ended up losing the £57 a week she was getting to pay for a mobility car. “To be told I had improved when I’m living with a condition that is only going to get worse was horrible,” she says. “Without the allowance I couldn’t have a car, which had a massive impact. It totally took my independence and my lifeline away.”

She says going through the PIP process was a constant reminder of her diagnosis.

This stress and worry eventually led to depression, which fuelled a lack of sleep that caused her tremor and stiffness to get worse.

“I ended up going to a tribunal and it took just ten minutes for the judge to overturn the decision,” she says.

Michael Gibson, 36, from Preston, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 18.

When his wife was on maternity leave, he was reassessed from DLA to PIP and was told he would lose his mobility car.

“I can’t use public transport so I didn’t know how I was going to get to work,” he says. “As a father of two I was worried about paying the bills and this stress had a massive impact. I have never experienced my Parkinson’s symptoms as bad as when I was going through the PIP process. I felt like I had progressed ten years with the condition.

“After months of stress and worry, the decision was overturned which was a big relief, but people with long-term conditions should not have to go through this.”