PLUNGED into poverty for more than a year and left feeling suicidal, a disabled woman can now look to the future after a tribunal overturned the DWP’s contentious decision to strip her of benefits.

Surviving a brain haemorrhage, two strokes, paralysis and being run over by a car meant life was already a struggle for Darlington woman Christine Kokes.

Last June, it became much harder when the 58-year-old was told she was no longer eligible for the disability benefits on which she depended.

She had been receiving Disability Living Allowance but was ordered to undergo a reassessment due to the introduction of Personal Independence Payments.

Following a ‘distressing’ assessment, the Department of Work and Pensions informed Ms Kokes that she was not disabled enough to qualify for the benefit.

Suddenly plunged into poverty, she was left relying on the generosity of friends, family and foodbanks to survive and could not afford her energy bills throughout the winter.

Her mental and physical health declined significantly as she mounted a year-long battle against the decision, which reached tribunal on July 9.

There, a judge assessed evidence and overturned the DWP’s conclusions, deciding that Ms Kokes was eligible for the enhanced rate of PIP for both mobility and care requirements. The DWP has now reinstated Ms Kokes’ benefits.

Official figures show that almost three quarters of the 84,452 PIP cases to reach tribunal in 2018/19 led to a decision being made in favour of the claimant.

Since the benefit was introduced in 2013/14, the percentage of cases changing in the claimant’s favour at tribunal has risen steadily – from 26% then to 73% - and has consistently been higher than the percentage of DWP decisions upheld by the courts.

Ms Kokes believes the figures reflect a system that is not fit for purpose, sentiments echoed by Darlington’s MP Jenny Chapman.

Reflecting on her ordeal, Ms Kokes said: “I’m so glad to have this over with, it has been horrendous and I don’t know how I’ve coped, I’ve been suicidal.

“I now hate the system and what it’s doing to people, there are real problems and it’s not fit for purpose.

“Disabled people shouldn’t be turning to foodbanks because they’ve had their money taken, I hated having to depend on others and I’m just glad I can start to look forward now.”

Ms Chapman said: “I am very pleased to hear that Christine has had the DWP’s decision reversed in her favour. But after more than a year of fighting tooth and nail.

“It should never have come to this – the original decision was outrageous but sadly, one of many like it.

“The stress that Christine has had to endure over this last year must have been unbearable and totally unnecessary. The process has once again failed.

“Almost three quarters of PIP tribunals now find in favour of the client. How can a system which forces people to go through so much stress only to find in their favour be fit for purpose?

“Disabled people have been amongst the hardest hit by the Government’s austerity agenda, we should urgently reform this broken system and end the suffering of thousands of people across the UK."

A DWP spokeswoman said additional evidence presented to the tribunal helped Ms Kokes to win her case and that she received some other benefits during the appeal process, adding: "We are committed to ensuring disabled people get the support they are entitled to."